What we learned: EURO 2016 Match Day 3

It’s been a wonderful, intriguing group stage of the 2016 European Championship, and with all the games done and dusted, let’s look back at Match Day 3 in France.

EURO 2016 Matchday 3

Source: Getty Images

The moment: Ivan Perišić zooms away, changing the tournament in a second

Get the banners ready in Madrid and dust off the double-decker bus: the Spaniards are good to go three in a row. At least they were until the 87 minute mark of their clash with Croatia. Both teams might have already been through but the Vatreni, sensing the value of finishing on top, refused to give up. With pace to burn, Perišić - arguably the player of the tournament so far - runs the length of the half to send Spain into the “Side of Death” and these Euros into a tailspin. 

The hero: Robbie Brady’s name gets etched into Irish folklore

The Irish love their tales, and the story of Robbie Brady will get told up and down the Emerald Isle forever more.  Five minutes from time, the left-back, playing out of position in central midfield, is spotted by Wes Hoolahan, who’d missed a key chance to win the game, with a Hail Mary cross, one that Brady somehow manages to meet before the famous Italian defence. Ireland - having done the unthinkable - are through, and Dublin won’t stop partying until they meet France.

The game: Hungary and Portugal were pleased - and the neutrals delighted 

It was a result that gave everyone what they wanted. Hungary scored three goals and looked as good as any national team since the Magic Magyars, while Portugal proved they can still dig themselves out of a hole. Or in other words, they still proved that if they give the ball to Cristiano Ronaldo, he can just about do a LeBron James. Which leads us to...  

The villain: Cristiano Ronaldo being...Cristiano Ronaldo

The reporter who approached him in the morning of the team’s walk should have been given a stern rebuke - but Ronaldo’s petulance in throwing his microphone into a lake was something else. Still, he must have taken his frustration out on the pitch, because he saved the tournament for his country with two perfect second-half goals, after setting up the opener for Nani.


The sublime: The land of fire and ice - and now football 

A staggering 26,985 fans from Iceland applied for tickets to watch their team play. For a nation with a population size on par with New South Wales’ Central Coast region, it’s a remarkable turnout. “It’s like having your family at the game,” Iceland defender Kari Arnason said. “I know probably 50 percent of our crowd, or recognize them.” And how they must have partied after defeating Austria at the Stade de France to seal their progress to the knockout stages - where they face England. That native commentary alone is already immortal.

The ridiculous: Will Grigg’s On Fire.

This doesn’t need an explanation (just put it down to Northern Ireland quirkiness). But we can tell you that the Wigan Athletic fan who invented the song now has a free season ticket - and your defence is terrified.

What we predicted: Germany getting through without incident

The Germans are quickly becoming the forgotten story of these Euros. Everything they do is efficient (except Mario Götze as a false nine) and it works satisfactorily. You’d never call them boring, but they are predictable - dominating the ball and launching attack after attack. Ukraine, Poland and Northern Ireland would never overly test them, and nor should Slovakia in the knockouts. But after that, they’ll have to win three tough games to be champions. 

What we didn’t: Northern Ireland making the last 16

I wrote them off. Big time. Called them the only team that wouldn’t be in with a shout of making the quarter finals, perhaps forgetting that you can lose twice and still make it through. All they needed was a win - and against Ukraine, they found it. The way they held on against Germany for a 1-0 defeat was magnificent, even if the Germans should have won by much more. Still, who cares. Northern Ireland are through, and with Wales awaiting in the round of 16, the journey may yet go on for another week.

What to look for in the knockouts: Could a bolter to go all the way?

It’s certainly set up for a shock. Belgium, Portugal and Croatia will think all their Christmases will have come at once landing on the soft side of the draw, and one of these teams will almost certainly make it through to the final. But could it be that we see a genuine bolter go all the way, ala Denmark in 1992 and Greece in 2004? Poland will fancy themselves, as will Switzerland. That side of the draw could produce almost anything.

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5 min read
Published 24 June 2016 at 9:32am
By Sebastian Hassett