PARIS (AP) — Six teams advanced at the European Championship on Tuesday, and a heavyweight clash was set up as the round of 16 took shape.
Only one team, the Czech Republic, was definitely eliminated; Turkey and Albania were left with hope but no security; and the eight teams playing Wednesday were left knowing exactly what they need to do to stay on in France.
Still, one match stands out as Euro 2016 finally heats up.
Two-time defending champion Spain plays Italy on Monday. A repeat of the Euro 2012 final. At the 75,000-capacity Stade de France.
Spain dropped into an unwanted match against its old rival after conceding an 87th-minute goal in a 2-1 defeat by Croatia late on Tuesday.
Croatia is the unexpected winner of Group D and is rewarded with a game against one of the third-place teams. That will be made clear when the final round of group stage games is played on Wednesday.
Earlier, Croatia was among five teams whose place in the knockout rounds was sealed by 1-0 wins for Germany and Poland in Group C, over Northern Ireland and already eliminated Ukraine, respectively.
Germany advanced as group winner and Poland as runners-up. But those results also set the bar at four points as a guarantee of staying in France for at least one more match.
Croatia, Hungary and Slovakia had already reached that mark and so advanced.
The new format for Euro 2016 — with 24 teams creating an imperfect tournament number — means four of the six third-place teams advance to complete a 16-team bracket, along with the top two in each group.
Northern Ireland’s early evening loss left its noisy, boisterous with three points and hope, but no guarantee of advancing. That was clarified three hours later when the other match in the Croatia-Spain group ended 2-0 to Turkey against the Czech Republic.
Turkey, like Albania in Group A, has three points but a minus-2 goal difference. Northern Ireland’s zero goal difference — preserved by a heroic display by goalkeeper Michael McGovern against the Germans — ensures it will advance. It will next play either host nation France or Wales.
Slovakia advanced without playing Tuesday. With four points and third place behind Wales and England in Group B on Monday, the Slovaks looked sure to be safe and duly were.
Italy is assured of topping Group E and completes its group program Wednesday against Ireland which must win to have any chance of advancing.
Second-place Belgium plays Sweden in what could be Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s last international game. The 34-year-old star will retire from the Swedish national team unless it wins and stake a claim to third place and an extra few days in France.
Group F leader Hungary also will advance, though not necessarily on top of its table after playing Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal on Wednesday. Second-place Iceland plays Austria which has to win.
The rankings of third-placed teams will be known late on Wednesday evening.