Euro 2016: Five Things From Monday's Games

Graziano Pelle
Graziano Pelle at Stade des Lumieres, Lyon, June 13. Pelle scored for Italy against Belgium. Claudio Villa/Getty

One of the most highly-anticipated matches of the group stages at Euro 2016 took place on Monday as Italy ran out comfortable winners against Belgium.

The Italians top group E after the Republic of Ireland and Sweden shared the points in Paris following a 1-1 draw.

The other game of the day saw reigning champions Spain grab a late winner through Barcelona center-back Gerard Pique, to put the Spaniards second in group D.

Here, Newsweek looks at five things that stood out from Monday at the 2016 European Championships.

Iniesta drags champions

The test was whether the new generation of Spaniards could take off where the last left off in 2012, and win an unprecedented third consecutive European title.

So far, so Spain. Vicente Del Bosque's side passed Czech Republic to exhaustion for 90 minutes, with the reward coming in the 87th minute.

But it came from the old guard. Iniesta, as we have become so accustomed to over the past decade, was at the heart of everything that was good for Spain. With three minutes remaining, he switched onto his right foot and delivered a teasing cross straight onto the head of Pique.

The Czechs were beaten, Spain looks set for the knockout stages but will need young strikers like Alvaro Morata and Nolito to start firing if they're to hold onto the title.

Belgium's "golden generation" stumbles

The talent Marc Wilmots' team possesses along with its second place world ranking by FIFA saw Belgium enter the tournament as one of the favorites. Not, perhaps, anymore.

Chelsea's Eden Hazard, Manchester City's Kevin de Bruyne and Everton's Romelu Lukaku made up an imposing strike force. Despite missing captain Vincent Kompany through injury, Belgium still has Tottenham Hotspur's Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld at the back, a duo who led Spurs with the best defense in the Premier League last season.

But, as an England team including Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Paul Scholes learnt over the last decade, individual quality doesn't always shine through.

Stylish Italians

Antonio Conte's Italy displayed a polished performance Milan would have been proud of.

Against a side in Belgium expected to go the distance in France, Italy put on the most assured performance of the tournament so far, bar, perhaps, Germany's 2-0 win over Ukraine on Sunday.

As expected, Juventus duo Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini were solid at the back for Italy, holding off the creative powers Belgium possess in Hazard and De Bruyne.

The two goalscorers, Emanuele Giaccherini and Graziano Pelle, provided a constant threat to a depleted Belgian defense. The powerful Pelle could prove key if Italy is to improve on its second-place finish four years ago in Poland and Ukraine.

Luck of the Swedes

The Republic of Ireland was doomed from the start. In a group containing 2012 finalists Italy, Belgium, ranked second in the world, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic's Sweden, Martin O'Neill's side was likely to be on a flight home once the group stages were complete.

Judging by the 1-1 draw with Sweden, however, Ireland is capable of advancing from group E. Wes Hoolahan's smartly taken half-volley three minutes into the second half had been coming after O'Neill's side had come close several times, including Jeff Hendrick striking the crossbar.

It proved to be a frustrating afternoon for the Republic, though, as a low cross from Ibrahimovic was agonizingly turned into the net by Ireland center-back Ciaran Clark.

And finally... Ireland fans

With crowd trouble hitting the headlines more than the football over the first weekend of Euro 2016, it was a pleasure for the Irish to enter the tournament.

The bright colours of yellow and emerald green mixing throughout the bars and outside the Stade de France in Paris encapsulated the expected mood of a major tournament.

Renditions of Abba's "Dancing Queen" were belted out by both sets of fans, as well as Westlife's "World of our Own."

Long may it continue.

Euro 2016: Five Things From Monday's Games | Sports