DAVE SEDDON'S EURO 2016 PRESSVIEW
The Icemen Cometh, the Magnificent Magyars ride again, the Welsh triumph and Irish eyes '“ on both sides of the border '“ are smiling.
You could say the second week of Euro 2016 was one enjoyed by the underdog.
Before a ball was kicked, many would have doubted Iceland getting a point on the board, let alone making the last 16 by finishing second in their section.
Who would have envisaged Hungary topping that group and being involved in arguably the game of the group stages?
Wales above England, Northern Ireland making it through and the Republic of Ireland beating Italy, were all turn ups for the books.
The expansion of the Euros to 24 clubs might have had its critics – some of the final group games added weight to their argument – but is has opened the door for some countries to unexpectedly shine.
Let’s start with Iceland as they play England on Monday.
After drawing with Portugal and then Hungary – only being pegged back late in that one by an own goal – they scored a last-gasp winner to beat Austria 2-1.
With one stretch of his left leg deep into stoppage-time, Arnor Ingvi Traustason set up a meeting with England and condemned Portugal to a tricky-looking test against Croatia.
There was an English sigh of relief that it was not Cristiano Ronaldo they would be facing in Nice.
However, there should be no complacency on England’s part just because it is Iceland and not Portugal.
A touch of that against Slovakia proved costly in that they did not top the group and landed in the tough half – on paper at least – of the draw.
England face a similar challenge against Iceland to that of the Slovakia game.
An organised Iceland side will sit deep although will look play on the break rather than be content to camp in their own half like Slovakia did.
Presumably, Roy Hodgson will have learned lessons from the group games ahead of Monday’s clash.
His rotation of the side did not have the desired effect, Nathaniel Clyne the best performer by some margin of those drafted in.
That said, there could be no argument against starting with both Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge in light of how they had turned the game against Wales in England’s favour.
Jordan Henderson, Ryan Bertrand and Jack Wilshere did not exactly further their causes though.
Hungary’s progress as Group F winners was a spot of bookie-bashing.
Portugal began as section favourites, with Austria talked about as potential dark horses after an impressive qualifying campaign.
Yet Hungary topped the group, boasting the oldest player in the tournament in jogging bottoms-clad keeper Gabor Kiraly.
Their 3-3 draw with Portugal was a stormer – blink and you missed something.
You would not bet against Hungary finding a way past Belgium on Sunday night, such is the nature of the Belgians who are struggling to live up to their Golden Generation tag.
What of Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland?
Wales route to the last 16 was somewhat comfortable, two wins sandwiching their defeat to England.
They did to Russia what England should have done, ramming home their superiority against what was a dreadful, unimaginative Russian side.
They go head-to-head with Northern Ireland now and you would have to say that Wales start favourites.
In reaching the knockout stages, the 2-0 win over Ukraine and losing only 1-0 to Germany, proved key. Michael McGovern, who can list Stranraer, Falkirk, Ross County and Hamilton Academical on his CV, thrust himself into the limelight by almost single-handily limiting Germany to one goal.
The shot which did beat him was carried in with the help of a deflection.
Out of contract at Hamilton, it is a fair guess that the keeper’s agent’s mobile has been red hot in recent days.
It is France on Sunday teatime for the Republic of Ireland who beat Italy to secure their passage. Even Roy Keane was moved to tears of joy by the win, genuine emotion from Martin O’Neill’s No.2 who usually keeps his thoughts hidden behind that beard.
Beating France will be a tall order for the Republic, that said the hosts have not exactly broken any pots yet.
From what I’ve seen to date, Croatia look a decent bet to go far and are in the better side of the draw.