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Euro 2016: 5 things we learned from the group stages

The first round of the Euros has given us a plethora of talking points.

Iceland
Iceland’s qualification into the second round was one of the big stories of Euro this year

What a dramatic end to the group stages of Euro 2016! Late goals and high drama to go with teary and passionate fans – the 36 games have seen them all. The expansion of the tournament to 24 teams has given the opportunity for more teams – especially those who have been in the wilderness over the years - to showcase themselves on the international front.

The provision offered to the best four third-placed teams in their respective groups to compete in the knockouts has been a welcome addition to the Euros revamped format, giving minnows like Ireland, Northern Ireland and Slovakia to cause an upset or two. Iceland’s remarkable story continues to have more chapters added to it, qualifying for the knockouts by finishing second in their group – ahead of Portugal.

Overall, it has been a memorable tournament so far and promises to throw more surprises at fans as the knockouts begin on Saturday.

Here ae some of the major things we learned from an enthralling group stage:

#1 Late goals are the norm

Antoine Griezmann Goal
Antoine Griezmann’s late goal sealed all three points for France

Sometimes, it’s the winners scored in the dying minutes of the game that make a game memorable and sends the winning team’s fans home with smiles on their faces. It normally gets frustrating for the dominating side if they aren’t able to find that elusive breakthrough. But true champions are defined by their never-give-in attitude in these situations.

Just recall France’s late show in the inaugural game of the tournament against Romania, and a similarly late breakthrough in their following game against the stubborn Albanians. Spain’s incredible patience against the Czech Republic ultimately earned them their reward in the 88th minute. So did Italy’s pressing against the Swedes, which culminated with a sensational late winner by Eder.

England’s injury-time exploits against neighbours Wales might well have saved them from elimination. Irishman Robbie Brady’s header against Italy to send them through the knockouts produced tears of joy in the eyes of the fans and the management. One knows what it means for them to qualify for the knockouts when Roy Keane breaks down on the Irish bench.

Winning games in this fashion is not desirable but it gives teams the momentum they desperately need when they face a knockout situation. Will we see some late knockout punches in the tournament?

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