Euro 2016 has given fans great nostalgia with winners brewing in delight while the losing teams chaffed away in grief but in all, naturals have witnessed some great spectacle.
Nigeria’s biggest football portal FCNaija.com highlights the top five surprises of the group stage and we relive some of the greater moments of the football fiesta as we expect greater moments in the round of 16.
Italy 2-0 Belgium
Belgium were massive favourites of the European Championship heading into their first match of the competition but Italy who had not been too impressive in their friendly matches coming up against The Red Devils cleverly avoided the hype and produced a well-timed soccer punch.
The Azzurri’s ranked 12th in the world and guided by the dynamic Antonio Conte slayed the second highest ranked team in the world with goals by Emanuele Giaccherini and Graziano Pellè inside the Stade de Lyon to produce the first major shocker of the tournament.
Croatia 2-1 Spain
Croatia added to the unpredictability of the competition which they sneaked in a late minute winner against Cup favourites Spain in a fascinating encounter that ensured they topped the Group D with seven points, one ahead of the defending champions.
The La Furia Roja took the lead as expected through Álvaro Morata but Sergio Ramos missed a second half penalty that could’ve given the lead after Nikola Kalinić levelled scores but with three minutes to the end of the game Ivan Perišić blazed a superb left-foot shot past David de Gea in goal for Spain to send Croatia fans into wide frenzy.
That was the first defeat of the defending champions since 2004 in the European Championship. It sets up an interesting round of 16 pairing with Croatia facing Portugal while Spain play Italy in a mouth-watering fixture.
Republic of Ireland 1-0 Italy
Republic of Ireland produced one of the biggest performances of the group phase as they pipped Italy in their last match of the group phase to ensure qualification to the round of 16.
Robbie Brady scored the winner in the 85th minute at the Stade Pierre Mauroy, Lille Métropole and Italy coach summed up nicely why Italy lost: “The stadium was packed full of Ireland fans that drove their team on towards the end; our fans made themselves heard despite being in the minority and we thank them for supporting us to the death.”
The fans played a major role for the Irish and they will need them against in the round of 16 as they come up against France who ended their hopes of reaching the 2010 FIFA World Cup finals with a play-off victory against the Boys in Green.
Portugal 1-1 Iceland
Portugal finished their Group F unbeaten but that only landed them a disappointing third place finish in group that had Iceland, Hungary, and Austria.
Cristiano Ronaldo broke two records in their final group match against Hungary as he became the first player to score in four European Championships, and the first to complete 17 European Championship matches.
However, it was a huge surprise that Portugal failed to beat Iceland in their first match of the tournament as they played out a 1-1 draw. Nani’s goal that day was the 600th EURO finals goal but their day was ruined by Birkir Bjarnason’s equalizer.
Romania 0-1 Albania
Sadly, Albania did not make it to the round of 16 but they had a debut at the Euros they will never forget in a hurry.
The team opened up with a game against Switzerland where brothers Granit Xhaka and Taulant Xhaka came up against each other and their mother in the stands watching her sons with pride.
However, the minnows ended the tournament on a high as they defeated Romania in their last Group A game as number 10 shirt Armando Sadiku headed home to score their first goal in a European competition and earned his side a surprise result as they bowed out gracefully.