France, Germany, Belgium in quarter-finals
France, Germany and Belgium sealed their places in the quarter-finals of the European Championship yesterday as three of the pre-tournament favourites lived up to their promise.
There was a scare for the host nation after Ireland scored a
second-minute penalty, but Antoine Griezmann struck twice after the break to give France a deserved 2-1 victory in Lyon.
While France were made to work hard to advance, Germany had no such difficulties in a polished 3-0 victory over Slovakia, while Eden Hazard inspired Belgium to what ended up as a crushing 4-0 win over Hungary.
The goals and the quality of the football over the three games were a marked improvement on the dire performances witnessed on Saturday when Poland, Wales and Portugal advanced.
The relief was palpable at the Stade de Lyon after France finally overwhelmed an Ireland side that had led through Robbie Brady's spot kick, after France midfielder Paul Pogba bundled Shane Long to the ground.
Ireland chased for every ball and worked tirelessly to defend their slender lead, but Griezmann's two goals in the space of three minutes midway through the second half saw the natural order restored, and a red card for Shane Duffy in the 66th minute all but ended the contest.
"When Ireland took the lead, it made us a bit more uncomfortable in the first half," France coach Didier Deschamps acknowledged. "They showed a lot of enthusiasm, but we had to dig deep, get through the situation, and get in front."
France's reward is a quarter-final next Sunday at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis against either England or Iceland, who play today.
Germany scored early and never looked back against a Slovakia side that had surprisingly beaten Joachim Loew's world champions in a friendly last month.
Jerome Boateng broke the deadlock after just eight minutes in Lille with a deflected shot, his first goal in 63 appearances for Germany.
Mesut Ozil missed a penalty shortly afterward, the first by a German player at a European Championship since 1976. But Mario Gomez stabbed home Germany's second just before the break after a clever cutback by Julian Draxler, who then volleyed home the third midway through the second half.
If Slovakia proved to be a relatively easy proposition, the same cannot be said of Germany's next opponents - either two-time defending champion Spain or Italy, who meet today. That quarter-final will be played on Saturday in Bordeaux.
Hazard may be coming off a very mediocre season with Chelsea, but he lit up the Stade de Toulouse yesterday.
After Toby Alderweireld headed Belgium into a 10th minute lead, Hazard turned victory into a rout in the closing stages.