They may have the two best domestic football leagues in the world, but Spain and England were both unceremoniously dumped out of the European football championship, as Euro 2016 moves into the quarter-final stage this week.
Defending champions Spain were the biggest casualty so far, falling 2-0 to a tactically impeccable Italy, whose squad for the tournament was deemed by their own country, as its worst in 50 years. It seemed the end of the road for some of the Spanish players who won the world with their patient, passing style of football on the way to being crowned champions of Europe in 2008 and 2012 and the World in 2010.
While Spain were beaten by the 12th ranked team in the world, England were shocked by Iceland, a team ranked 34th in the world and 23 places below the English, in what is being labelled as their worst defeat, by quality of opposition, in a major football tournament. England were unimpressive throughout the tournament–the only bright spot a 2-1 win over Wales–but were expected to win against Iceland, and set up an enticing quarter-final clash against France. However, despite taking a 1-0 lead early on, England conceded two goals inside the first 18 minutes of the game and just could not break down their more determined opponents–the country of 330,000 people, playing in the first major international tournament, enamouring itself to the world in the process.
Hosts France had to produce something special to make their passage into the quarter-finals, trailing Republic of Ireland 1-0 at half-time, before an Antoine Griezmann brace saw them through. If they beat Iceland in their quarter-final encounter they will likely face Germany in the next round, who will have to get passed Italy.
World champions Germany remain favourites, though they haven’t been at their absolute best, and will face well-drilled and seasoned Italy in their next game. What Italy lacked in youth and exuberance they have made up in grit and organisation, having outplayed star-studded Belgium in the group stage as well.
Belgium have improved since that opening game defeat to Italy, beating Republic of Ireland and Sweden before picked apart Hungary 4-0 in the second round. They have one of the most talented squads on paper, with highly rated players who are signed to top European clubs, but face a determined Wales, led by the world’s most expensive player Gareth Bale. Wales are playing their first European championships and first major international tournament since the 1958 World Cup, their only appearance in that tournament.
Portugal led by World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo will face Poland in the first quarter-final on Thursday with huge pressure on the forward to lead his team into the semis. Like fellow star Lionel Messi, who ended for the time being his participation with the Argentine national team, Ronaldo has not been able to inspire his Portuguese teams to great things–though Messi did play in a world cup final.