So we are onto the round of 16, a bit of a mouthful, but knock out football is finally here.
If the last round of games showed us anything, this is when the excitement really starts. With the unpredictable results, we now have two sides of the draw that guarantee a finalist that has never won a tournament before, and lot of big names exiting early.
So what can we expect, will England listen to the people and leave Europe? Will Bale storm Wales to unthinkable glory? Can France, Spain or Germany finally click into gear? So many questions to be answered, and all we can now do is get the snacks ready, ensure the drinks are cold and grab the best spot in front of the screen. If you have to plan your life and work around only being able to watch some games, the following are must see:
Wales v Northern Ireland 5pm
Imagine the atmosphere here as two home nations collide in a UK derby. Yes, Wales should have the quality to win this, and there is an argument that the quality of football may not be as high, but who wants to miss the blood thunder of a British tie with the Irish singing Will Grigg’s on fire for 90 minutes, despite him not seeing a second of football at this tournament.
Croatia v Portugal 8pm
This has the makings of being the game of the tournament. Croatia has been pretty sensational thus far, and with a midfield boasting a Modric-Rakitic tandem, there is real quality and depth in this squad. That said, with Portugal there is always the Ronaldo factor, and this is a brooding, angry Ronaldo, who got an assist and two goals (one an outrageous back heel volley) to help claw them here. Expect there to be goals.
Republic of Ireland v France 2pm
Remember that time Henry stopped ROI making the World Cup by playing basketball during a football match? Well if you don’t, the Irish certainly do and they will be out for revenge. A lot of pressure is on the French, who despite positive results, have yet to really convince. It will also be interesting to see if the Irish fans can out sing the hosts. Also, it will be interesting to see if the hosts turn on Pogba if he doesn’t run past 5 players and score a rabona inside the first 20 minutes.
Belgium v Hungry 8pm
Now this is, on paper, not the most glamorous of fixtures, but Hungry have surprised us all with the attractive football they have played. Also, the character shown against Portugal, plus a bit of luck with the deflections that is always needed by a smaller side, shows that Hungry could cause another upset here. Belgium seem to be without a real fluidity, although when you have Hazard, De Bruyne, Lukaku to name but three, you always have a chance of winning any game.
Italy v Spain 5pm
Now this is a must watch as it is the biggest tie in the round in terms of two giants taking each other on. There is every chance this game could be a very cagey affair, with Italy weary having been smashed 4-0 by Spain in the final of the last Euros. That said, and this is what makes knock out football so amazing, is that someone has to win, so something will have to give. Will the Italians find a way like they invariably do, or will the Spanish turn it on what it matters most? We shall wait and see.
England v Iceland 8pm
Well, although England had a huge say in the UK voting out of the EU, they want to stay in Europe as part of this tournament for as long as possible. As for Iceland, they are proof that a long-term plan with focus on coaching and football culture is the way forward, unlike the English knee-jerk hyper critical reaction to any deemed failure. It will be worth watching alone for the inevitable Brexit jokes should England lose.
Words by @jjabbal