The final pair of matches of Euro 2016's group stage took place on Wednesday. One of those matches was between Belgium and Sweden. Both squads came into the match wanting a result: Sweden wanted a win in order to qualify for the round of 16 and Belgium wanted a win or a draw to secure their hold on 2nd place.
For a second consecutive game, Thomas Meunier was preferred to the Impact's Laurent Ciman to start at right back.
In the opening moments of the match, Sweden's desire to score that all-important opening goal was evident. In the 4th minute, Belgium narrowly avoided catastrophe: Sweden won a free kick near the half way line and whipped a ball into Belgium's penalty area. The ball fell to Marcus Berg and he let fire a shot from 6 yards out directly towards Thibaut Courtois who made the reflex save.
Sweden continued to put pressure on the Belgian back 4 for the rest of the first half. It was clear that the Swedes needed the win. However, the pressure applied by Sweden opened the door for the red devils on the counterattack. We saw Belgium with a few odd man rush situations in the Swedes half. On a few occasions, Kevin De Bruyne sent nicely weighted crosses into the box for Romelu Lukaku who stopped his runs just a fraction too early. If the physical striker had the drive to keep on running, Belgium could easily have been up by a goal or two at half time.
At the start of the 2nd half, the timer was on for Sweden's round of 16 dreams. Sweden definitely performed at a very high level but were not able to break down the imposing Belgian defense. Sweden's inability to register a point on the score card eventually came down to a solid defensive play by Belgium's playmaker, Kevin De Bruyne. Deep into the 2nd half, a well delivered corner found its way to none other than Zlatan Ibrahimović's head. The talented Swede rocketed the ball towards the near post where Kevin De Bruyne cleared it off the goal line with a potentially game saving intervention.
In the dying minutes of their bid to qualify for the round of 16, Sweden's main preoccupation was to score a goal. That led to a deadly counterattack on the part of Belgian. In the 84th minute, Belgium scored the goal that would eventually seal the outcome of the match as well as end Ibrahimović's international career (Ibrahimović is retiring from international football after the Euro). The counterattack originated when Lukaku recovered possession in Belgium's half. The Everton striker then played the ball onto Eden Hazard who single handily carried the ball all the way to the base line in Sweden's half before passing the ball to Radja Nainggolan. The A.S. Roma man sealed the outcome with a stunning strike from the edge of the penalty area to win the match for Belgium.
With their 1-0 win over Sweden, Belgium qualified for the round of 16 as the 2nd seed in group E behind Italy and in front of the Republic of Ireland. With their 2nd place finish, Belgium will now face group F winners Hungary on Sunday June 26th in Toulouse.