Door ajar for underdog teams at Euro 2016

FRENCH PRESS AGENCY - AFP
PARIS
Published 25.06.2016 00:11

With the continent's perennial powers shoehorned into the same half of the draw for the Euro 2016 knockout stages, Europe's lesser lights will never have a better opportunity to topple the traditional giants. Title-holders Spain face Italy in the last 16 and then a potential quarter-final against world champions Germany before the prospect of bumping into France or England should they reach the last four. The teams in the bottom half of the draw have combined to win 11 World Cups and nine European championships, whilst no side in the top half has won a major tournament. But for the likes of Belgium, Croatia, Switzerland, Poland and Wales their respective paths to the July 10 final have given them plenty of reason to dream about a first international title.

"There is a crazy imbalance in the draw for the second round, but those are the rules and we have to respect them," said Italy coach Antonio Conte. While Belgium may be wary of last-16 opponents Hungary, who won Group F after a 30-year major tournament absence, now is the time for the country's gifted generation of players to fulfil their potential. Should they beat Hungary, a quarter-final against Wales or Northern Ireland would await them in Lille with Croatia, Portugal, Poland and Switzerland all potential last-four opponents.

Ivan Perisic's late winner against Spain sent Croatia through as winners of Group D, although Iceland's last-gasp victory over Austria on Wednesday means the Croats will take on Portugal rather than Iceland in the next round. Poland, twice World Cup semi-finalists in 1974 and 1982, and Switzerland both advanced from the group stage for the first time and square off in the first of the last-16 ties on Saturday in Saint-Etienne.

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter