Euro 2016 Group E: Belgium finish second behind Italy, Republic of Ireland qualify for Round of 16
Belgium beat Sweden 1-0 in their final Group E match of UEFA Euro 2016 to seal second spot behind Italy thanks to a goal from Radja Nainggolan in the 85th minute. The result sees Sweden, who needed a win, knocked out of Euro and bring down the curtains on Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s career. In the other game, Republic of Ireland beat Italy with a late goal from Robbie Brady to seal a spot in the knockout stages.
Sweden 0-1 Belgium
Sweden: Isaksson; Lindelof, Johansson, Granqvist, Olsson; Ekdal, Kallstrom, Larsson, Forsberg; Berg, Ibrahimovic
Belgium: Courtois; Meunier, Alderweireld, Vermaelen, Vertonghen; Witsel, Nainggolan; De Bruyne, Carrasco, Hazard, R Lukaku
The Zlatan Ibrahimovic-led side desperately needed a win to qualify for the Round of 16 and they restored Marcus Berg to the starting lineup. And he got a shot on goal in just the fifth minute that saw Thibaut Courtois made to work. The Chelsea goalkeeper made a stunning save to keep the ball out that even allowed Belgium to counter.
But that shot on goal was important in the sense that it saw Sweden become the 24th and final team to finally get a shot on target at Euro 2016. They had failed to do so in the first two games against the Republic of Ireland and Italy and the wait was 185 minutes.
The first quarter of a game was a competition between goalkeepers and the defence. Ibrahimovic also had an acrobatic shot blocked while at the other end Isaksson first denied Lukaku when Meunier sent in a teasing cross into the box. He also latched on to a powerful shot from De Bruyne to keep it at 0-0.
Ibrahimovic almost became the second player to score in four different Euros after Cristiano Ronaldo did so after his goal against Hungary earlier in the day. A snapshot from 20 yards out went agonisingly wide of the post and Courtois, convincingly beaten, did look worried for a moment.
But towards the end of the first half, both sides lost their attacking verve that saw so many chances created. The closest either team came to scoring was in the 45th minute when De Bruyne’s curling cross into the box missed all his teammates and went painstakingly wide of the post.
The second half did see some action at both ends as the teams looked to break the deadlock. Ibrahimovic looked to either provide or score himself on numerous occasions and was left frustrated by the Belgian defence. And even if he did find a way through, Courtois stood in his way.
The Red Devils had a penalty claim waved away when Granqvist seemed to handle the ball when trying to block a cross. However, replays showed it wasn’t intentional and it would have been a very harsh decision to award a penalty.
But it wasn’t like Belgium did not have chances to score. A couple of counter-attacks first saw Lukaku fire a shot that was superbly closed down by Isaksson before he was called into action again to palm away a De Bruyne shot that was destined for the bottom corner.
Both Lukaku and Ibrahimovic had the ball in the back of the net on separate occasions with sublime or acrobatic efforts. However, on both occasions, the offside flag was raised by the linesmen to heap more frustration on both sides.
However, Radja Nainggolan finally broke the deadlock with a strike from 24 yards out in the 85th minute. A swerving effort took a slight deflection before beating a diving Isaksson and curling back in towards goal to make it 1-0 to Marc Wilmots’ side and seal the three points.
Ibrahimovic would finish his international career with a loss, but no one would question his influence on the Swedish national team over the past 15 years, finishing with 62 goals from 115 caps.
Italy 0-1 Republic of Ireland
Ireland were left annoyed for the majority of the game as they failed to score until the 85th minute when Robbie Brady gave the Irish side the lead. Arguably their best player of the match, an Ireland counter-attack saw Brady run into the centre of the box where Wes Hoolahan sent in a sumptuous cross for Brady to head home with Sirigu in no man’s land.
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Round of 16 fixtures
France vs Republic of Ireland – 26 June
Hungary vs Belgium – 26 June
Italy vs Spain – 27 June
All matches available on live streaming at SonyLIV