No Brexit here as Britain embraces the Euros
By Mitch Phillips
MARSEILLE, France (Reuters) - On the day Britain votes on Brexit, England, Wales and Northern Ireland are planning on maintaining close ties with the continent after all three surprisingly advanced to the knockout stage of Euro 2016.
It is a remarkable achievement and for one of Wales and Northern Ireland -- both appearing in the European championship finals for the first time -- it is guaranteed to continue for at least another week after the two were paired in the round of 16.
And England will expect to join them in the quarter-finals by getting past Iceland.
Even neighbours Republic of Ireland, not part of the Home Nations, but with close ties to British football, have secured their first-ever taste of the knockout phase after Robbie Brady's late winner against Italy.
They, however, will need to find something special to overcome hosts and tournament favourites France.
The last time three of Britain's Home Nations appeared in a tournament was when England, Northern Ireland and Scotland all made it to the 1986 World Cup, having also done so four years earlier.
Only England advanced to the second round in 86, while Northern Ireland joined them in '82 after famously beating hosts Spain.
England and Scotland featured in the 1990 World Cup, where they were again joined by the Republic of Ireland, but the only time all four Home Nations played in the same tournament was the 1958 World Cup.
On that occasion the surprise performers were Wales and Northern Ireland, who both reached the quarter-finals of the then 16-team format.
While Northern Ireland were well beaten by France, Wales were somewhat unlucky to be edged 1-0 by eventual champions Brazil and few watching would have thought it would be 58 years before they returned to tournament action.
Once here though, Wales have blossomed, topping their group ahead of England and now harbouring previously unimaginable hopes of even going all the way to the final.
While Northern Ireland, who have shown terrific spirit, will approach the game without fear, Wales are favourites to win it, primarily because of the presence of Gareth Bale.
"We can learn from the game against England, being a British derby," said Wales coach Chris Coleman in reference to the group match that England won 2-1 with a last-gasp Daniel Sturridge goal.
"It will be a great game, good teams who have done well, very well to get as far as they have and it will be whoever gets it right on the day."
Such is the way the draw has turned out that whoever wins that local tussle will face Hungary or Belgium in the quarter-finals with Croatia, Portugal, Switzerland or Poland their potential semi-final rivals -- none of whom will strike undue fear into the British underdogs.
England are in the half of the draw that also includes Italy, Spain and Germany as well as the Republic of Ireland.
Wales's odds to win the trophy have dropped from 33-1 to 20-1 while Northern Ireland are 200-1 shots and their Republic neighbours 100-1, according to British bookmaker William Hill, who offered 14-1 pre-tournament for all three teams to advance.
(Editing by: Toby Davis)