PORTUGAL 2-2 FRANCE
GERMANY 2-2 HUNGARY
Cristiano Ronaldo equalled Ali Daei’s long-standing all-time 109 international goal-scoring record with a brace of penalties against France to ensure Portugal progressed to the knock-out phase of the tournament which kicks off with Wales v Denmark in Amsterdam on Saturday (5pm).
But the path to the final outcome of the concluding Group F standings proved to be a rollercoaster of emotions for all four teams involved, Portugal, Germany and Hungary all facing elimination at some stage or another during 90 drama-packed minutes played out simultaneously in sweltering Budapest and rain-soaked Munich.
As Ronaldo put Portugal ahead against France during the first half, Germany went behind and, at this stage, out, to Hungary. Karim Benzema equalised with a penalty of his own just before half time and put France 2-1 up from open play after the break – with Hungary still winning, Portugal were now facing elimination.
That scenario changed again as Germany drew level and Ronaldo made it 2-2 with his second spot kick leaving Hungary out in the cold. However, the Magyars re-took the lead almost immediately and now Germany faced an early exit…until the 83rd minute when a late equaliser in Munich finally condemned Hungary’s spirited efforts to ultimate failure.
The twists and turns determining the Group F standings must have been followed with both anticipation and trepidation in England, Gareth Southgate’s men due to play the second-placed team at Wembley on Tuesday (5pm). Germany, France, Portugal, Hungary, Germany again, then Portugal for a second time, and, at the death, definitely Germany, became the last 16 opponents over the 90 minutes, promising a renewal of one of the oldest rivalries in international football.
Before that classic encounter, Portugal return to action against so far unbeaten Belgium on Sunday evening in Seville (8pm), while France take on Switzerland on Monday.
In the other hitherto unresolved Group E, Sweden held on to top spot with an injury-time 3-2 win against homeward-bound Poland, while Spain, who now face Croatia, grabbed a last-gasp second place by thrashing Slovakia 5-0.
By SKIP BANDELE