Ireland 1-1 Sweden Republic of Ireland had to settle for a point from their Euro 2016 Group E opener after Ciaran Clark’s own goal ...
Ireland 1-1 Sweden
Republic of Ireland had to settle for a point from their Euro 2016 Group E opener after Ciaran Clark’s own goal handed Sweden a 1-1 draw in Paris.
Ireland looked to be on their way to a first win at the European Championship finals since they beat England in Stuttgart in 1988, courtesy of Wes Hoolahan’s fine 48th-minute strike.
But their hopes were dashed at the Stade de France when Aston Villa defender Clark turned Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s cross past goalkeeper Darren Randolph to leave the Republic having to make do with a point from a 1-1 draw on a night when they could justifiably feel they should have emerged with more.
Sweden were decidedly second best before the break and although they improved after it, Ireland boss Martin O’Neill will feel his side did more than enough to have won a game in which victory would have given either team a significant chance of making it out of Group E.
Italy 1-1 Belgium
Italy established themselves as serious contenders for Euro 2016 glory as Emanuele Giaccherini and Graziano Pelle scored in a 2-0 win over highly-fancied Belgium.
From the outset Italy stunned Belgium into mistakes, the high-pressing duo of Graziano Pelle and Eder leaving no time for the backline to settle whilst the wingbacks Antonio Candreva and Matteo Darmian covered every inch of the pitch, giving Conte a 5-3-2 without the ball and a 3-3-4 with it.
In Leonardo Bonucci Italy had the games outstanding player, drawn almost magnetically to the ball in defence.
When he had time to pick a pass he was deadly, striking a long ball over the top straight into the path of Giaccherini on 31 minutes. The former Sunderland man needed only to stroke the ball past Thibaut Courtois to give the Azzuri a deserved half-time lead.
Belgium had their chances in the second period, Romelu Lukau chipping over when one on one with Gianluigi Buffon on 54 minutes, but so did Italy and it took a fine save from Courtois moments later to deny Pelle’s header.
The closing moments saw pressure build on the Italian goal but a series of intelligent fouls from Giorgio Chiellini and Bonucci, by some distance the man of the match, saw dangerous counters ended at the cost of just a booking before Pelle added a second in injury time.
It was classic Italy, and the sort of play that wins tournaments.