Euro 2016 Group E: Well hello Ireland, goodbye Zlatan and Sweden

Henry Bushnell
FC Yahoo
LILLE, FRANCE - JUNE 22: Robbie Brady of Republic of Ireland celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group E match between Italy and Republic of Ireland at Stade Pierre-Mauroy on June 22, 2016 in Lille, France. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Italy v Republic of Ireland - Group E: UEFA Euro 2016

LILLE, FRANCE - JUNE 22: Robbie Brady of Republic of Ireland celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group E match between Italy and Republic of Ireland at Stade Pierre-Mauroy on June 22, 2016 in Lille, France. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Group E was petering out with a whimper. Ireland and Sweden, both on one point, needed wins to advance to the knockout round. With their games against Italy and Belgium respectively knotted at 0-0 in the 80th minute, dreams were fading away.

In the 84th minute, the Swedish dreams vanished. Radja Nainggolan's powerful 20-yard drive found the far corner, securing a win for Belgium. The status quo looked set to be cemented.

[ EURO 2016 | Predictions | Scores/Schedule | Standings | Teams ]

But just 16 seconds later, 34-year-old Wes Hoolahan, playing at his first major tournament for Ireland, curled in a cross that will live on in Irish memories forever. Hoolahan made Robbie Brady a national hero.

Scenes. Joyous scenes. Tears. Joyous tears. Ireland is through to the Round of 16, and even minutes after the final whistle, its boisterous, green-clad supporters were still bouncing around in unison.

GOODBYE, ZLATAN

Elsewhere, as Belgium celebrated, Zlatan Ibrahimovic walked off the field in a Sweden kit for the final time. The 34-year-old announced Tuesday that he would retire at the conclusion of the tournament.

Ibrahimovic scored 62 goals for Sweden in his 15-year international career. But he also did more than that. He made Swedish soccer interesting. He made it unpredictable and occasionally imaginative. The neutral fan will miss him just as much as Sweden will.

THE 'BRACKET OF DEATH'

Ireland's exaltations brought the Euro 2016 group stage to a dramatic close. Its win eliminated Turkey, and finalized the bracket for the knockout round.

The bracket is one of the most lopsided major tournament brackets ever. Multiple favorites coughed up top spots in their groups, leaving Germany, Italy, Spain, France and England on one side of the bracket.

Here is that bracket:

Left side
Switzerland vs. Poland | Saturday, June 25, 9 a.m. EDT
Croatia vs. Portugal | Saturday, June 25, 3 p.m. EDT
Wales vs. Northern Ireland | Saturday, June 25, noon EDT
Hungary vs. Belgium | Sunday, June 26, 3 p.m. EDT



Right side
Germany vs. Slovakia | Sunday, June 26, noon EDT
Italy vs. Spain | Monday, June 27, noon EDT
France vs. Ireland | Sunday, June 26, 9 a.m. EDT
England vs. Iceland | Monday, June 27, 3 p.m. EDT



The big winner here is Belgium, whose path to the semifinal doesn't go through any traditional power.

Italy, meanwhile, could have to beat Europe's top four teams – Spain, Germany, France and Belgium – to lift the trophy in July. The entire right side is a perilous road.

What to Read Next