After the 3-3 draw earlier in the day between Hungary and Portugal, arguably the game of the tournament so far, it was always going to be tough for Italy (vs. Ireland) and Belgium (vs. Sweden) to live up that level of excitement. Surely enough, they did not. But while Italy could barely be bothered to turn up, Belgium and Sweden both had something to play for and thus did provide an entertaining 90 minutes on the French Riviera.
A mostly open game saw both teams create several good chances, even more half-chances. Thibaut Courtois was called into action early, while at the other end, former Manchester City goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson was putting on a clinic at age 34. But even he was powerless to stop this drive from Radja Nainggolan.
Without scoring (but getting the official assist on the goal), Eden Hazard had a good game, creating for himself as well as combining with both De Bruyne (playing centrally, finally) and Lukaku. It wasn't perfect -- Lukaku seemed just a step slow multiple times, and missed a glorious 1-v-1 as well -- but it was good enough. With the 1-0 win, Belgium advance as the second seed from Group E and face Group F winners Hungary on the "easier" side of the bracket. It's almost good that Belgium were thoroughly outclassed by Italy in that first game!
And speaking of Italy, manager Antonio Conte made nine changes to his starting lineup with qualification to the knockout round and a date with Spain already known before kick-off. It's safe to say that he will make perhaps just as many changes ahead of that game. The 1-0 loss to Ireland is not exactly great, but at least Bonucci did not pick up a yellow card (and he easily could have, or should have), which would have ruled him out of the next match (he and Barzagli were the only two who were not rotated). It's a great result for Ireland meanwhile, and their reward is a date with France. Revenge for the Henry handball anyone?