UEFA Euro 2016 Group Recap and Knockout Round Preview
By: Josh Katz
History and Expansion
Euro 2016, the 15th installment of the tournament, is the third expansion of the tournament since its creation in 1960. From 1960–1976, four teams entered into the finals. In 1980, the competition expanded to eight teams, bringing with it the beginnings of group play. The 1996 tournament saw the tournament double in size again, with 16 teams now being entered into the tournament. And now, at Euro 2016, 24 teams are entered into the finals.
The decision to expand the tournament was not without controversy. Many felt that the decision to allow “weaker” teams would result in more lopsided matches, such as Spain’s 4–0 thrashing of Ireland in Euro 2012, where Spain kept the ball for just under two-thirds of the match and had five times as many shots on target (20–5).
New Qualifying Procedure
With the addition of eight new teams comes a new qualification system. In previous tournaments, the top two teams in each group of four qualified for the knockout stages. In Euro 2016, there are six groups, meaning 12 teams would advance. To fill out the remaining four spots needed to run a proper knockout stage, the top four third placed teams also advance. These teams are determined on points, with the first tiebreaker being goal differential, followed by goals scored.
This has also led to a confusing setup for the knockout rounds. In previous years, the winners of each group would play a runner up from the next group (1A vs 2B and 2A vs 1B, etc.). For Euro 2016, the winners of groups A-D will play a third placed team (see above chart), and the winners of groups E and F play the runners up of groups D and E, respectively. The runners up in groups A and C play each other, leaving the runners up from groups B and F to meet up.
Group Stage Recap
One of the biggest talking points throughout the group stage has been the successes of some of the smaller countries, proving that UEFA’s decision to expand the tournament was the right one.
Wales, in its first major tournament since 1954, picked up a victory in their first match, highlighted by Gareth Bale’s stunning free kick in the 2–1 result over Slovakia. They have since gone on to win Group B with 7 points.
Hungary, playing in its first major tournament since 1986, picked up a 2–0 victory over dark horses Austria in their opening match. Gábor Király’s 104th appearance for Hungary in that match saw him break the record for the oldest ever player to appear at the Euros. Hungary then drew 1–1 with Iceland and 3–3 with Portugal, giving them the top spot in Group F.
Iceland, playing their its first ever major tournament, drew their first two matches, including a hard fought result against Portugal and three time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo. After Arnór Ingvi Traustason scored with the last kick of its final group match to win 2–1 and eliminate Austria, Iceland have finished second in Group F and will play England in the Round of 16.
Northern Ireland, in their first Euros, and their first tournament in 30 years, lost their opening match 1–0 to Poland before defeating Ukraine 2–0 in their second match. After a 1–0 defeat to Germany in their third match, they have advanced as a third placed team and will play Wales in their first knockout match.
Violence in the Stands
As with most other tournaments, the fans have played a part in the proceedings. France, being the home nation, have been backed at their matches by large crowds and deafening fans. Unfortunately, not all the fans have been civil. Croatian supporters threw flares on the field towards the end of their 2–2 draw with the Czech Republic, leading to a delay in the 86th minute. Additionally, Turkish fans threw flares on the field after a 3–0 defeat to Spain. UEFA has responded by charging both countries for their actions.
In Group B, Russian and English fans were involved in multiple altercations leading up to their Euro 2016 opener on June 11. After a 1–1 draw, Russian fans were seen charging English supporters and one Englishman was taken to the hospital in critical condition. Russia was later charged with crowd disorder and racist behavior, and UEFA threatened to disqualify the nation from the tournament if further improper behavior occurred. Russia has since been eliminated from Euro 2016, finishing bottom of Group B on one point.
Preview of Knockout Round
Looking ahead to the knockout stage of the competition, one match that stands out is Group E winners Italy vs Group D runners up Spain, a rematch of the final at Euro 2012, which Spain won easily, 4–0. Another match to keep an eye on is Group B runners up England against Group F runners up Iceland. Iceland have surprised many thus far in the tournament with their stout defending, and against an England side lacking pace and width in the attack, could be in for another storybook victory.
One thing to keep an eye on during the knockout stages is the lack of balance to the bracket. There are nine countries that have won the Euros. Of those nine, three failed to qualify for the group stage, and two failed to qualify from the group. The remaining four winners, accounting for ten European championships, are all on the right side of the bracket. There are as many teams on the left side of the bracket (2, Wales and Northern Ireland) that are making debuts at the Euros as there are teams who have played in the final match of the competition (Belgium, 1980, and Portugal, 2004).