The group stages of Euro 2016 is now over and we know who is progressing and who is going home. If the early stages of this tournament have taught us anything, it's that there is no one outstanding side in this competition and many of the 16 remaining teams could win the whole thing.
Usually, in international tournaments there are one or two sides that are a cut above the rest from the outset, like Spain have been in the last two European Championships and Germany and Argentina were at the last World Cup, but that is not the case at Euro 2016. Sure, the hosts are unbeaten and remain favourites but they have very visible flaws and were by no means imperious in their two wins.
Nobody won all their group games and there are as many as nine unbeaten teams going into the knockout games. Even amongst the unbeaten sides, there was a huge variation in how they achieved this status; two wins and a draw for France, Germany, Poland and Croatia, one win and a two draws for England, Hungary, Iceland and Switzerland, and three draws for Portugal.
SUBMIT AN ARTICLE
Apply to become a GMS writer by signing up and submitting a 250 word test article: http://gms.to/haveyoursay5
To suggest that Iceland and Hungary would be unbeaten at this stage a month ago would've seemed crazy yet we are and that is far from the end of the surprises. Wales topping their group ahead of England, Portugal finishing third, Austria going home and Croatia bettering Spain in their group are all surprise results which further add to the notion of the increasingly open nature of these Euro's.
France are likely still the team to beat yet they were far from convincing in their group games, relying on late goals and moments of brilliance from individuals to see them home. Spain looked imperious through two games, yet succumbed to on organised and energetic Croatian side in their final group game.
England and Germany each look dangerous and have dominated games but neither have impressed in the final third with a lack of penetration and goals, which may become increasingly troublesome in the latter rounds. Italy and Belgium have had their moments, looking impressive in certain games but also turning in an awful performance each and neither side inspires a whole lot of confidence going forward.
The Hungarians have been impressive but one just feels they lack the quality throughout their ranks to make much of an impact in the knockout rounds; the same can be said for Iceland. Portugal have been terribly disappointing but with a certain Cristiano Ronaldo in their ranks they can't be ruled out at any stage of a game and should be dangerous.
Realistically, seven or eight teams can harbour serious hopes of winning this tournament which is a huge number at this stage of proceedings. Euro 2016 has been characterised largely by hard fought, tight games and late goals, which brings more and more teams into the picture - especially those that can defend well and have dangerous counter-attacking players.
In games of such nature, teams with highly skilled individuals capable of singular moments of brilliance are well placed as it only takes one moment to change a game as we saw in the opening game of the tournament when Dimitri Payet produced a moment of magic to earn France a win in the dying moments against Romania.
For this reason, Wales, Portugal and Croatia are serious contenders alongside the group of pre-tournament favourites of France, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Italy and England.
It really is anyone's tournament to go out and grab by the scruff of the neck and it is going to be an edge of the seat viewing for the rest of the journey.
Do YOU want to write for GiveMeSport? Get started today by signing-up and submitting an article HERE: http://gms.to/writeforgms