Euro 2016 has produced some soaring and memorable moments throughout the group stage, with an emotional Les Bleus hero, a string of surprise packages and a certain veteran’s unusual attire capturing our imagination.
Here we run through the groups stage’s highlights…
First there was Dimitri Payet, moved to tears after scoring the winner in France’s tense opening game against Romania.
— Equipe de France (@equipedefrance) June 11, 2016
The West Ham winger moved to the Premier League 12 months ago and was not even in Didier Deschamps squad in October, but he has forced his way into the reckoning and is likely the first name on the France team sheet heading into the last 16.
WILL GRIGG’S ON FIRE AND A VIKING INVASION
New friends and long-lost acquaintances have more than played their part at this European Championship.
Northern Ireland, appearing at a first major tournament since the 1986 World Cup, defied the odds to progress to the round of 16, thanks largely to a victory over Ukraine marked by incessant chants for a player, Wigan Athletic cult hero Will Grigg, who has not even featured yet.
Albania followed that achievement up by beating Romania to win in their first run at a major finals, sparking more scenes of delirium at Stade de Lyon, although it was not enough for them to progress.
One of five teams to be making their European Championship bow, Iceland are arguably the neutral’s favourites, the tiny Nordic island defying Portugal, narrowly failing to beat Hungary and then downing sorry Austria to seal a huge showdown with England in Nice.
See you all in Nice! pic.twitter.com/SH9A56eXtO
— Knattspyrnusambandið (@footballiceland) June 22, 2016
The eruption when Birkir Bjarnason scored past Rui Patricio in Saint-Etienne could be heard from the Loire all the way to Reykjavik.
ENGLAND WIN BATTLE OF BRITAIN, BUT WALES HAVE LAST LAUGH
Chris Coleman’s men are another side back on the main stage after a lengthy absence.
Playing in their maiden European Championship and first major tournament since the 1958 World Cup, Wales made a winning start against Slovakia, but conceded late on to lose to England in dramatic fashion. However, by demolishing Russia to top Group B, Wales had the last laugh, with Gareth Bale confirming his status as one of the best players at the tournament with a masterclass in Toulouse against Leonid Slutsky’s sorry side.
— Wales (@FAWales) June 21, 2016
Up next is another local derby with Michael O’Neill’s Northern Ireland.
KIRALY MORE THAN A PAIR OF TRACKSUIT BOTTOMS
Joining the cavalcade of resurgent forces was Hungary, the best team in the world in the early 1950s but absent from the big football parties held every two years since, like Northern Ireland, 1986 in Mexico.
They have not been here merely to make up the numbers, topping Group F ahead of Portugal, with veteran goalkeeper Gabor Kiraly becoming the competition’s oldest ever player and capturing the imagination with his continued insistence on wearing grey tracksuit bottoms even in the heat of June in France.
IRELAND DEFY CONTE’S MACHINE
Martin O’Neill’s workmanlike Republic of Ireland side exorcised the demons of their dismal showing at Euro 2012 under Giovanni Trapattoni by stunning Group E winners Italy 1-0 in Lens, where Robbie Brady’s late header lifted the roof off Stade Pierre-Mauroy and booked a huge clash with the hosts in Lyon.
— FAIreland (@FAIreland) June 22, 2016