As the next stage of the tournament kicks off later today, let’s take a look back at some of the highlights from the group stages.
With the new format allowing more teams to reach the knockout stage, there has been even more incentive for the teams to grab points where they can to try and reach one of the extra four qualifying spots.
It may not have been pretty, it may not have allowed for many goals to be scored but you have to give it to Iceland. This was the first time they have qualified for a major tournament and no-one was really expecting much. Qualifying was even more impressive considering there are only 331,000 citizens of Iceland. This meant that any male aged between 20-40 had a 1 in 2000 chance of playing for their country. Better odds to play for Iceland than them achieving anything some may think? Well that was wrong. After a shock draw against Portugal, leading Ronaldo to label them as showing a “small mentality and they are not going to do anything in the competition”.
Well, that small mentality team managed to finish second in the group, above Portugal. You would almost say that is karma in action.
The winning Icelandic goal against Austria also provided this absolute moment of commentary brilliance:
Although the usual main contenders such as Spain, Italy, France and Germany have gone through, they haven’t been as slick or as impressive as we have come to expect.
For me, Wales have put in the best performances, best play and got the results needed to succeed in reaching the knockout stage.
Wales managed to top their group with two wins and Gareth Bale has scored in every match so far. Not to mention that Wales are solely relying on him to get them through. The entire Welsh team has looked cohesive and are definitely starting to become more than the dark horse of the tournament.
Their next game is against Northern Ireland and if they manage to win that, then I definitely think Wales could go all the way to the final.
This has to go to Sweden. I expected so much more from a team that has the world-class Zlatan Ibrahimovic playing. Ireland were very unlucky not to win against Sweden in the first group game after gifting them a draw with an own-goal. This is a team that did not have a single shot on target.
Come to the second group game against Italy and they were not so fortunate. Italy won 1-0 whilst Sweden just seem to have turned up out of obligation rather than any will to play as yet again, they did not have a single shot on target.
The final group game saw Sweden actually allow the Belgium goalkeeper to do something other than twiddle his thumbs. Not sure how easy that is to do in goalkeeping gloves but I’m sure he can have a word with the Irish and Italian goalkeepers for tips.
It was a very unfitting last campaign for Ibrahimovic who has now retired from international football. He only managed one shot on target in 270 minutes of play.
Special mention has to go to Russia for poor play, poor sportsmanship and even poorer support. The less said about them, the better but it does not bode well for the World Cup in 2018.
Unfortunately, there haven’t been many goals to choose from. This tournament has had the lowest average number of goals per match since 1992. However, there have been a few that have stood out for their quality.
He may sulk and moan, he may throw microphones into rivers and he may be the new enemy of one of the strongest men in the world; however, Ronaldo can score some good goals.
His back heel into goal in the game against Hungary shows the quality he has a player. You can see all six goals from that game, including Ronaldo’s superb finish over at BBC Sport. Definitely worth a watch.
Well. this has to be the easiest to decide. No other set of fans seems to have inspired as much joy or love as the Irish fans. They have become legendary and not surprising.
There was the time they made friends with a man on a balcony:
When they fixed a car:
Tried to help a baby get off to sleep on a tram:
Turns out that any problem can be solved with a few hundred Irish fans. I’m starting to hope they win the tournament because I think we may get world peace as a result. I wouldn’t put it past them.
Best off-pitch moment:
It’s Ronaldo again and he has decided to drop the mic in his own unique style;
Iceland’s odd clapping and shouting chant is terrifying and effective but there could only be one winner for this. Enjoy this going round your head for the rest of the day. All together now- Will Grigg’s on fire…