For the likes of Northern Ireland and Wales getting to the Euros alone was a massive achievement. However, in the tournament of the underdogs, they have both exceeded expectations by reaching the last 16.
The Northern Irish fans descended on France in their masses, creating a great atmosphere. They managed to finish third place in a very tough group which included World Cup winners Germany and a Polish side with a clinical striker in Robert Lewandowski. Two respectable 1-0 defeats to both of these sides and an incredible 2-0 victory over Ukraine was enough to be one of the best third placed teams.
Wales also made their own piece of history when they managed to top their group which included another home nation in England. They were narrowly beaten by England but still won two of their three group games setting up a last 16 tie with Northern Ireland. Very much like the team they will face in the last 16, Wales continued the great defensive organisation they had in the qualifiers.
England showed signs of hope with their intricate play but lacked the clinical edge needed at a major tournament – this evident in their two draws with Russia and Slovakia. Nonetheless, they still qualified finishing second and will now play minnows Iceland.
Another side close to home who beat all odds in the Euros are the Republic of Ireland. The Irish looked down and out after their first two games in the group with a draw against Sweden and a 3-0 defeat to Belgium. The Irish saw it differently and a resilient performance against an already through Italy saw them win 1-0.
With Northern Ireland facing off against Wales in the last 16 and England heavy favourites against Iceland, it is likely we could see two home nations in the last 8 of a major competition – some achievement in today’s footballing world.
Not many will expect a home nation to go on and win the tournament due to the lack of a real superstar and simply not as good a quality as others.
If there is one thing you have learned from this competition then it is that you cannot underestimate the underdog. It is a team game, not about the individual.
Image credit: flickr.com/joncandy