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​And German to My Horse: The Euro 2016 Review

With the Round of 16 now finished, it's time to take a look back at the first knockout games of Euro 2016. France are through, England are catastrophically out, and Germany look scarily good.

by Will Magee
28 June 2016, 5:03pm

EPA Images/Rolex Dela Pena

We all love a bit of knockout football, don't we? The stakes are high, the tension is acute, and the intensity of the competition is almost unbearable. With the Round of 16 now complete, the pool of teams at Euro 2016 has been ruthlessly halved.

Croatia have gone. Spain have gone. England have gone, and done so in the most perfect, farcical circumstances of all. Meanwhile Wales, Belgium and Germany lead the eight sides who've progressed to the quarter-finals. Here's how they managed it, and how things look set to shape up in the next round.

AND GERMAN TO MY HORSE

According to a popular historical misattribution, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, once said: "I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men and German to my horse." The suggestion was that, unlike the romance languages, German was an ugly dialect and unworthy of sophisticated discourse.

Over the course of their first three games at the Euros, some people came to a similar conclusion regarding the state of German football. Here were the World Champions, supposedly the best team on the planet, scoring a mere three goals at the group stage and coming away with narrow wins against Ukraine and Northern Ireland, as well as a goalless draw against Poland.

While the results were just about acceptable for Germany, the performances were lacklustre. Die Mannschaft seemed to lack their usual creative impetus, with Mario Götze and Mesut Özil attracting particular criticism for their lethargy. When the Germans were drawn against a solid Slovakia side in the Round of 16, some wondered aloud whether or not they might struggle to break the opposition down.

We needn't have worried. Not only did Germany beat Slovakia, they delivered a real statement of intent in the process.

The lads, being German together // Shawn Thew/EPA Images

The Germans dominated from start to finish at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy. Jérôme Boateng opened the scoring with his first ever goal for Germany, and Joachim Löw's men never looked back. Julian Draxler sparkled in the second half, tearing through the Slovak defence, teeing up Mario Gomez for the second and scoring a superb volley of his own to finish off the match. Die Mannschaft are back to their fluent best, it seems, and ready to prove that German is the most beautiful footballing language of all.

THAT SWEET ENEMY, FRANCE

A Frenchman! Avast! // EPA Images/Sergey Dolzhenko

Oh, how we would have loved to take on France. The French are England's oldest nemeses, our most prized foes, and a clash against them would have been an excellent excuse to indulge in some good, old-fashioned jingoism. We could have brought up Agincourt, and Waterloo, and all the other times we defeated France in horribly bloody military victories. We could have made fun of them for surrendering in the Second World War, lightheartedly appropriating the sacrifice of our grandparents for the sake of a couple of easy headlines and the opportunity to piss off our closest neighbours.

Unfortunately, England went and lost to Iceland in the Round of 16. That means that our Icelandic friends must take up the baton, and give the French a bloody good hiding on our behalf.

WATCH: The Unbelievable Rise of Icelandic Football

As one of the greatest underdog stories in the history of international football, it's hard not to want Iceland's campaign to continue. They entirely deserved their victory over England on Monday evening, and there's no reason they shouldn't repeat the feat against France. If they can play with similar pluck, determination, and no-fucks-given long-throw ingenuity next weekend, Iceland have every chance of causing Les Bleus serious problems. France have been less than the sum of their parts at this tournament, and struggled against the Republic of Ireland at the Stade des Lumières.

EPA Images/Tibor Illyes

For their spirit, their conviction and their insurmountable courage, we give Iceland our backing in the quarter-finals. Plus, if they beat France, it will make England look marginally less awful.

BELGIAN BIG GUNS

Belgium are another team who seemed to be less than the sum of their parts during the group stage, but things finally came together against Hungary on Sunday night. Marc Wilmots' side recorded the biggest win at Euro 2016 so far, thumping the opposition 4-0 and scoring some superb goals in the proces. The scoreline didn't tell the whole story, with Belgium grabbing three goals in the last 15 minutes of the match. Nonetheless, they had broken down a stubborn Hungarian side, and will now face Wales at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy as their reward.

An on-song Eden Hazard fires home Belgium's third against Hungary // Fehim Demir/EPA

Considering that Wales' Round of 16 win over Northern Ireland was a seriously low-quality affair, most will be backing Belgium to triumph on Friday evening. However, it only takes a glance at their respective qualifying campaigns to show that Chris Coleman knows how to mastermind success against Les Diables Rouges. Though Belgium eventually topped Qualifying Group B, they did so despite securing only a single point against the Welsh. Coleman's men held them to a 0-0 draw in Brussels, before a Gareth Bale goal sent Cardiff into absolute raptures and secured a 1-0 win in the return fixture.

As such, the recent head-to-head record should give the Welsh hope. They'll have to hold out against the Belgian big guns, but don't rule out a historic semi-final against either Portugal or Poland.

AN IRISH BLESSING

After their first two games at Euros, the Republic of Ireland looked to be treading on well-worn ground. A draw against Sweden and a thumping at the hands of Belgium had left them on the brink of elimination, and Euro 2016 looked set to be yet another tournament of chronic underachievement. Their fans had been great, the craic had been great, but things on the pitch had been lacklustre at best.

It was the same old story for the Republic. That is, until they beat Italy, and put in an excellent performance against France.

Though the Irish lost 2-1 to the tournament hosts on Sunday, they gave the French a serious scare. Robbie Brady put the Republic ahead with an early penalty, before Ireland proceeded to fight a valiant rearguard. Unfortunately, they tired in the second half, conceding twice to Antoine Griezmann in a matter of minutes. As Martin O'Neill has pointed out since, France had a full week's rest ahead of the match while the Republic had only four days to recuperate. That might ultimately have been the difference between the two sides.

France broke Irish hearts in Sunday's game // Mast Irham/EPA

Nonetheless, Irish fans can be proud of their tournament. The fact that they reached the knockout rounds at all was a blessing, but to run France close on home turf should be a source of genuine pride. Nobody can say that the Republic came to make up the numbers, nor can they write the national team off as simple craic-merchants. Ireland made their mark of Euro 2016, and went out in the best way possible.

THE SPAIN OF BEING PURE AT HEART

It's the end of an era for Spain // EPA Images/Srdjan Suki

Marca's front page read "Ya No Somos Los Mejores" ("We Are No Longer The Best") on Tuesday morning, and not even the most die-hard Spain fan can argue with that. Italy roundly outclassed La Roja in their monumental clash at the Stade de France, knocking out the reigning champions with goals from Giorgio Chiellini and Graziano Pellè, and ending Spain's golden era once and for all.

Having launched a frankly woeful defence of their World Cup title in Brazil two years ago, Spain have now served up much of the same in their pursuit of a record third consecutive European Championship.

That's the problem with winning the highest international accolades and playing some of the purest, most stylish football in the process. At some point, the glory dies, the trophies rust and everything fades away to black. That's life, mis amigos. There are some great moments, granted, but most of it is unrelentingly shit.

@W_F_Magee

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