Saturday 21 April 2018

Here is why last night's shock result has changed Euro 2016 - and how it could benefit the smaller teams

Will Slattery

Will Slattery

Well that was unexpected.

When Spain sliced through the Croatian defence like a surgeon's scalpel after seven minutes for Alvaro Morata to score his third of the tournament, it looked like La Rioja were on course to continue their group stage domination.

But fast-forward to the game's dying moments, and Nikola Kalinic and Ivan Perisic had struck twice to snatch the group and relegate Spain to runners up.

Permutations: Here's what Northern Ireland's loss means for Ireland's last 16 chances - and who they could face 

That switch cannot be overstated - not only has it given Vicente Del Bosque's men a very difficult last 16 game, it has also ensured that almost all of the tournament's big hitters are on one side of the draw.

Spain will play Italy in the second round, with the winners likely facing Germany in the quarter-finals. England and France also reside on the side of death - slated to also meet in the quarter-finals if they negotiate their respective last 16 ties.

Qualified! Northern Ireland advance to the last 16 after Turkey do them a big favour 

These developments mean that a previously unheralded team could make a charge on the opposite side.

Wales, Poland and Croatia - none of whom face group winners in the next round - will all fancy their chances of advancing deep in the tournament now, while Belgium - if they take care of business against Sweden - could well justify their pre-tournament favourites tag after this kind break in the draw.

Euro 2016 is now guaranteed at least one team in the final who has never won a major tournament.

If Ireland beat Italy, they can face either Croatia or France. The former are a formidable opponent, but given the quality on France's side of the draw, fans will be hoping the Boys in Green can avoid the hosts if they shock the Azzurri tomorrow night.

Euro 2016 draw:

Switzerland v Poland

Croatia v 3rd place (B/E/F)

Wales v 3rd place (C/D)

Winners of Group F v Runners up Group E

Germany v 3rd place (A/B)

Italy v Spain

France v 3rd place (C/E)

England v runners up Group F

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