The Surprise Packages at Euro '16

The European Championships takes a breath for a few days, as Portugal, Wales, France and Germany get ready to do battle for a place in Sunday’s final in Paris.

The break lets us take stock of what has previously happened at the competition. Just like every big international tournament Euro 2016 has saw teams perform way beyond expectations. Here we look at a few of the surprise packages of the European Championships:

euro ball stadium

Iceland

There was simply no other place to start when talking about surprise packages. The Nordic nation is the smallest ever to qualify for the European Championships, yet they made it to the last-eight of the competition, only for their brave journey to be ended with a 5-2 hammering against host nation France on Sunday night.

Even in that heavy defeat against Les Bleus, they kept going and never stopped fighting for their country’s pride. Despite that heavy defeat the team should be immensely proud of their work in France.

The Nordic nation went unbeaten in the group stages, drawing with Portugal and Hungary, before winning their last group game against Austria with a dramatic late winner in stoppage-time.

There was an even bigger achievement ahead though, as Lagerback’s team achieved arguably their biggest ever international victory beating England 2-1 in the quarter-finals. They went into the clash as major underdogs and were written-off by most neutrals.

However they produced a stellar performance to see off a rather inept Three Lions team to seal a famous win and set-up a quarter-final with France.

Veteran boss Lars Lagerback can be proud of his team’s achievements in France and will now leave his position and hand over sole control of the side to part-time dentist Hallgrimsson, who has been his joint-boss at Euro 2016.

The team can now look forward to challenging for a place at World 2018 in Russia, despite being drawn in a difficult group.

Wales

The Dragons were written-off by many before the campaign even started and some claimed that they would not even get out of a group containing England, Slovakia and Russia. Not only did they make the knockout stages, but they topped the group.

Impressive wins over Slovakia and Russia saw them through to the last-16 as group winners. The Dragons were slightly fortune against Northern Ireland in the last-16, as Gareth McAuley own goal meant Chris Coleman’s side made it to the last-8.

In the quarter-finals, again they were written-off as they faced Belgium, who are second in the world rankings. A fantastic display full of passion, pride and ability saw Chris Coleman’s side stun the highly-rated Belgians and record a 3-1 victory.

There could be more yet to come though, as Coleman’s side face Portugal on Wednesday in the semi-finals. The Dragons have already achieved so much in France and it would be even more incredible if they could go all the way at Euro 2016.

Precedents have been set at previous European Championships of the likes of Denmark and Greece winning the trophy against all odds, so it is not completely out of the question that Gareth Bale and Co could go all the way this time around.

Hungary

Hungary’s achievement was slightly more modest than that of Iceland or Wales, but their performance at the tournament was still surprising. Bernd Storck’s team arrived in France regarded as one of the weakest teams in the competition.

However, they went unbeaten in the group stages beating Austria, and then drew with both Iceland and Portugal. In the end Storck’s team topped their tough group to set up a last-16 meeting with Belgium, who recorded a 4-0 win.

The scoreline was rather misleading though, as Hungary was still in the game until the 78th minute, before the floodgates opened. Despite the manner of their tournament exit, the Hungary players and fans should be immensely proud of their team.

They proved the doubters wrong by making it out of the group stages and proved that they were in no way the weakest team in France, as some critics claimed they were prior to the competition.

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