Day four of Euro 2016 saw the likes of Spain, Italy and Belgium kick-off their campaigns, as all three games proved fascinating in different ways.
European champions Spain left it late to defeat Czech Republic 1-0 in Toulouse in Group D.
Vicente del Bosque’s side dominated the game, but it took 87 minutes for La Roja to break the deadlock, as centre-back Gerard Pique headed home from a fantastic Andres Iniesta pin-point cross.
The Czech’s offered very little attacking threat apart from early in the second half, when Theodor Gebre-Selassie saw an effort cleared away by Cesc Fabregas near his goal line.
The win moved the European champions level on points with Croatia who defeated Turkey on Sunday. The two will now be favourites to finish in the top two of the group.
Attention then moved to Group E, as Republic of Ireland and Sweden drew 1-1 in Group E at the Stade de France.
Martin O’Neill’s side took the lead just three minutes into the second half, having had the better of the first period without finding a breakthrough. Everton full-back Seamus Coleman floated a cross into the box and Wes Hoolahan smashed a sublime volley past Andreas Isaksson in the Sweden goal.
Sweden failed to get a shot on target in the entire 90 minutes, but scored an equaliser on 71 minutes. Zlatan Ibrahimovic found space down the Swedish left and crossed the ball into the six-yard box, only for Kieran Clark to head past his own ‘keeper.
A draw was not a terrible result for either side, but Ireland could rue the missed opportunity, as this game might have been their best chance of picking-up a win in the group stages.
Much-fancied Belgium suffered a 2-0 defeat against European Championship veterans Italy in their opening game of Group F.
Italy took the lead on 32 minutes. Defender Leonardo Bonucci played a fantastic pass over the Belgian defence to Sunderland midfielder Emanuele Giaccherini who took a touch and beat Thibaut Courtois with a powerful effort.
The game was then end-to-end with chances at both ends of the pitch. Italy’s second goal came in stoppage-time, as Belgium desperately searched for an equaliser. Ciro Immobile found Antonio Candreva who picked-out Southampton striker Graziano Pelle at the far post and the striker fired home a powerful effort.
The win means that Italy top the Group and Belgium are bottom, with a tricky looking game against Ireland next up, while Italy face Sweden in the other game of the group.
French authorities have said that the most serious fighting that broke out ahead of England’s match against Russia at the weekend was, in the main, caused by up to 150 Russians intent on creating havoc. The Russians have been quoted by authorities as being “extremely well trained,” and, “prepared for ultra-violent action.”
Today, both the English Manager, Roy Hodgson, and Captain, Wayne Rooney, have made an appeal to the English fans for them to stay away from the troubles.
Rooney asked fans not to travel without tickets and to stay safe and sensible given the volatile situation.
Hodgson said that he appreciated the travelling support but to stay out of trouble as the English team had worked hard to get a place in the tournament and wanted to stay in it.
Both teams face a possible expulsion from the competition if there is any further violence between fans.
Three days of repeated clashes between the two sets of fans took place in Marseille prior to the 1-1 draw between the two countries on Saturday evening.
Soon after the Russian goal was scored in extra time completing the match as a draw, some of the Russian fans were seen chasing down English fans in the stadium following the ignition of flares. Fighting carried on outside the stadium and a number of arrests on both sides took place.
UEFA has commenced disciplinary proceedings against the Russian Football Federation but not yet the English Football Association. Any sanctions to be imposed against Russia will be decided tomorrow by UEFA.
An alcohol ban will be introduced in key sensitive areas close to the football stadiums to try to reduce the likelihood for further clashes.
In the main both Russian and English associations have condemned the violence and appealed for calm, however, one Russian MP, Igor Lebedev, has been highly critised for saying there was "nothing wrong with football fans fighting”, and to, “keep up the good work."
His attitude has obviously caused some concerns, especially since Russia are in line to host the next FIFA World Cup in 2018.
Russia play Slovakia next on Wednesday in Lille and England meets Wales in Lens on Thursday.
Euro 2016 Day Four Preview
In what could be one of the most exciting days of Euro 2016, day four sees the entrance of the likes of European champions Spain, Italy and highly-fancied Belgium into the competition.
European champions Spain kick-off the defence of the trophy on Monday in Toulouse against Czech Republic in Group D.
Having won the competition on consecutive occasions, Spain should be confident heading into this tournament. However, mixed recent results and performances have raised question marks over the Spaniards ability to win the competition.
La Roja won their qualification group, claiming nine wins out of their ten games, although they suffered their first qualification defeat eight years, as Slovakia defeated Vicente del Bosque’s side 2-1.
Underwhelming wins over minnows like Belarus and Macedonia led to criticism of the team’s performances. A recent defeat at home against minnows Georgia in a friendly was a poor result, but in truth Spain dominated the game.
They have beaten Czech Republic in the last three meetings and despite some underwhelming recent displays will be expected to record a win in this clash.
Czech Republic won their qualification group ahead of fellow qualifiers Iceland and Turkey, even more surprisingly ahead of European giants the Netherlands, who endured a disastrous qualification campaign finishing fourth in the group.
Pavel Vrba’s team have gone off the boil since qualifying and have experienced decidedly mixed results in friendly games of late, including a 2-1 defeat at home to South Korea in their last warm-up match.
The Czech’s will need to return to the form that saw them record four consecutive wins at the start of qualifying to have any chance of pulling-off a victory against the European champions.
Attention then turns to Group E, as Republic of Ireland face Sweden in Saint Denis.
The Republic of Ireland made it through to Euro 2016 by beating Bosnia and Herzegovina in a play-off, having finished behind Poland and Germany in qualifying. Ireland deserves credit for making it out of a very difficult group though.
A stand-out game from qualifying for Ireland was the 1-0 win over world champions Germany, courtesy of a Shane Long goal. Ireland will be seen by many as the weakest team in this group, but have a good team spirit and are unlikely to be anybody’s whipping boys.
Sweden also needed a play-off to make it Euro 2016, as Erik Hamren’s side defeated fellow Scandinavians Denmark 4-3 on aggregate. The play-off win came following a third-place finish in Group G behind Austria and Russia.
Striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic was the star of the show in qualifying scoring 11 times. The veteran striker will look to take centre stage for the Swedes again in France, but in truth will have be at his best this summer for his team to make the knockout stages, as his teammates are nowhere near the same standard as the 34-year-old.
The last game of day four is one of the more interesting of the first game week, as highly-rated Belgium and tournament-hardened Italy clash in Group D.
Belgium are the highest ranking team at Euro 2016, currently sitting second in the work ranking. Marc Wilmots side topped their qualifying group ahead of Wales, but they showed vulnerabilities at times and despite a number of star names they may still be regarded as slight outsiders by some.
Italy also topped their group in qualifying, remaining unbeaten, recording seven wins and three draws, but in truth their qualification campaign was highly-underwhelming. The Azzurri scored just 16 times in qualification, the lowest of any of the teams at the finals.
The fact that they only won 1-0 in both their games against Malta and Azerbaijan scored in both their meetings suggest that the Italians were not quite at the top of their game. However they are a team that cannot be written-off, as just like Germany tend to turn it on at the big international tournaments.