Euro 2016: Matchday 1 in Group E

Cormac O'DonnellEuropean ChampionshipLeave a Comment

The top-ranked side in Europe, Belgium, take on last tournament’s finalist Italy whilst Ireland kick off against Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Sweden.

Wes Hoolahan (top right) wheels away in celebration. Courtesy:

Wes Hoolahan (top right) wheels away in celebration. Courtesy:

Republic of Ireland 1-1 Sweden

The Green Army kicked their tournament off against a Swedish side lead by the enigmatic Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who will likely be playing his last tournament. Martin O’Neill’s choice to play with two strikers appeared to pay off as Ireland dominated the early proceedings.

The Irish came close several times in the first half, most notably a 20 yard curled strike from Jeff Hendrick which struck the crossbar. Irish pressure eventually paid off just after the break as Seamus Coleman beat the full back, delivering a cross to Wes Hoolahan who exquisitely rifled the ball past Andreas Isaksson.

It was a different picture from here onwards however as Sweden were awakened by the Irish lead. Swedish pressure built as Irish fatigue noticeably increased. This was clearest when Ciaran Clark agonizingly turned a Zlatan Ibrahimovic cross into his own net. Ireland will feel unlucky not have seen out what was a close game in Paris.


Republic of Ireland Expectations: 5/10

After a horror-show in 2012 and a tough qualification process which required a tense play-off to advance, little is expected from the boys in green. Similar to Northern Ireland, they will enjoy every moment.

Republic of Ireland Verdict: 7/10

Ireland surprised everyone by playing with two strikers and their endeavour was rewarded. They outclassed a quality Sweden side, showing real confidence and ability. They will feel they should have won the game, although their fatigue got the better of them in the end.

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Sweden Expectations: 6.5/10

Whilst by no means a one man team, Sweden will be relying heavily on Zlatan Ibrahimovic to create the magic needed for them to progress in the tournament.

Sweden Verdict: 4/10

It is not often that Ireland outclass opponents but that is exactly what happened to Sweden. Having failed to create a single attempt on target, they will be heavily relieved to have picked up anything from the game.

Italy jubilant as they smash Belgian hopes. Courtesy:

Italy jubilant as they smash Belgian hopes. Courtesy:

Belgium 0-2 Italy

The blockbuster fixture of matchday 1 certainly didn’t disappoint as world number two Belgium clashed against 2012 finalists Italy. Pressure has been building on this generation of Belgians to produce silverware whilst expectations have been low on what has been described as the worst Italian squad to ever be sent to a major tournament.

The game flowed beautifully and both sides had their chances. At times the tension was clear in the Belgian ranks, missing their captain Vincent Kompany desperately, as Italy appeared perfectly drilled by the meticulous Antonio Conte. It was Emanuele Giaccherini, a failure at Sunderland, who got on the end of a looping pass from Leonardo Bonucci to curl the ball past the sprawling Thibault Courtois.

Belgium began to fall further away as Italy tightened their hold on the game, finally putting the Belgians out of the misery three minutes into stoppage time when Antonio Candreva laid the ball on perfectly for Southampton’s Graziano Pelle to thunder a volley into the back of the net.


Belgium Expectations: 9/10

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As the highest ranked team in Europe, this generation can no longer hide from the intense expectation on their shoulders. Many Belgians will be expecting their side to be lifting the trophy on July 10th.

Belgium Verdict: 7/10

Flashes of quality were largely drowned out by their lack of attacking penetration and seemingly disjointed tactics. The old heads in the Italy squad completely outplayed the much younger Belgian outfit who had no answer to Italy’s organisation. Pressure will be huge as they await the pivotal game against an impressive looking Ireland.


Italy Expectations: 7/10

With Sunderland reject Emanuele Giaccherini making the starting line-up, it is no wonder this Italy team has been described as the worst ever at a major tournament. Although similar opinions were held about the Italian side who went on to lift the World Cup in 2006. If there’s one lesson in international football, it’s never underestimate the Italians.

Italy Verdict: 10/10

A near-perfect tactical masterclass as the two most criticized players delivered the three points for the Azzurri. It is difficult to point to a clear mistake from Italy whose players all knew their role. A prime example of the whole being better than the sum of its parts; if Italy play like this every game nobody will stop them.




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