Last week we gave YOU the chance to vote for your favourite goal of the Euro 2016 Group Stages from a selection that included stunners from Luka Modric, Wes Hoolahan, Emanuele Giaccherini and Dmitri Payet.
But it was Ronaldo who topped the votes with a whopping 61% of those cast in favour of the Real Madrid man.
Here’s how the votes ended up…
And here’s that Ronaldo strike in all its glory…
How do people think he is not the best? https://t.co/cUcrdyq0jX— Clayton Terbrock (@claytonterbrock) June 24, 2016
Hosts France are not the only nation at Euro 2016 wrestling with the weight of expectation against past events which occurred on Gallic soil 18 years ago.
World Cup 1998 was marked by many things: Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo’s dark day in the final, David Beckham’s red card, Dennis Bergkamp’s moment of brilliance against Argentina, but also Croatia announcing themselves on the global stage.
Seeds had been sown two years earlier at Euro ‘96 with a last eight appearance, but Miroslav Blazevic’s side recorded their best ever finish in an international tournament – in only their second appearance at one – with a third-place in France, having exited at the semi-final stage to Les Bleus.
The 3-0 quarter-final victory over Germany is buried into the national consciousness and the crowning glory of a generation featuring Davor Suker, Zvonimir Boban and Robert Prosinecki.
Despite a continuous production line in that corner of the Balkans ever since, bar Bilic leading them to a quarter-final in 2008, Croatia have largely failed to deliver since, with continuous group stage exits.
The good news keeps coming for Croatia. Cacic says he's hopeful Modric and Mandzukic will be fit for the next round #CRO— Oliver Kay (@OliverKayTimes) June 21, 2016
The promise of ‘98 disintegrated into frustration at missed opportunities, a wildly run association (something that still resonates in this tournament) and an inability to forge talent into a coherent unit.
But having set a sizeable marker in the group stage with wins over Turkey, Spain and a 2-2 draw against the Czech Republic, in which Ante Cacic’s side were negligent in letting two points slip, it’s not unreasonable to suggest they were the most impressive and consistent team in the tournament.
And team is the operative word because despite serious doubts over Cacic’s coaching credentials, Croatia have played as a collective.
Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic as ‘the stars’ have stepped up and while the former has endured injury problems, there’s a feeling their best is yet to come in the knockouts.
Ivan Perisic has captured the attention, an individual previously known for his sporadic fits of class interspersed with anonymity.
Defensively, the Czech meltdown aside, they’ve looked resolute and organised, while Darijo Srna’s own personal performances deserve a considerable mention given that Croatia’s games against Turkey and the Czech Republic came eitherside of the sudden death of his father Uzeir.
It was notable, within seconds of scoring against the Czechs, Perisic ran to Srna, joined in celebration by his team-mates.
Amid the backdrop of supporter alienation with those who run the game, spilling over into discontent and apathy towards the national side, this is a group of players performing for each other.
With no Modric or Mario Mandzukic against two-time defending champions Spain, Cacic introduced Marko Rog, 20, Tin Jedvaj, 20, and Marko Pjaca, 21, with just 15 caps between them. Yet there was no loss of continuity; the rookies making a seamless transition into the first team.
And while Croatia are on the verge of something special in France, it’s that aspect that indicates, should they qualify, the 2018 vintage are going to be a very special team indeed.
Bar 30-year-old Modric, all of Croatia’s midfield are in their early to late 20s and will surely be along for the ride in Russia.
There is no Alen Halilovic of Barcelona in this squad, while the latest Dinamo Zagreb protege Ante Coric, 19, is yet to receive any gametime in France.
But that is for the future, because given their side of the draw and the way they are playing, only Belgium can really match them for overall talent on their set path to the final.
The feats of the 1998 team will forever be cast in history and act as an inspirational force for Croatian football. But Modric, Rakitic, Perisic and the rest now have the greatest opportunity the Vatreni has had since to write the next defining chapter in the national team’s history
Wales and Northern Ireland have both impressed at Euro 2016 but for one of these British teams, the road ends here, at their round of 16 clash
Can a Gareth Bale led Wales side go even further or will Northern Ireland stop them in their tracks?
We take a look at the main topics of discussion ahead of the knockout tie…
CAN WALES HANDLE FAVOURITES TAG?
It is not often the Welsh head into a game with bookmakers expecting them to progress. And, if their qualification journey to France is anything to go by, it is not a status which sits easy with them.
They failed to beat Israel at home in September when victory would have guaranteed qualification, with a stalemate in that contest coming either side of less-than-convincing victories over Andorra. Can Chris Coleman’s side cope with the expectation?
WILL BALE BE STOPPED?
The only man to score in each of the three group-stage games was absent during the 1-1 draw with the Northern Irish back in March. Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill had a tinge of regret that his team would not face the challenge of the 26-year-old Real Madrid forward then, though the last 16 of a major tournament is not an ideal testing ground.
Northern Ireland did an excellent job nullifying Robert Lewandowski and Ukraine’s wingers, though, something they will be encouraged by.
WHO WILL DOMINATE MIDFIELD?
Northern Ireland have ceded at least 60 per cent of possession in each of their three contests so far while
the Welsh had to weather an English storm in their only Group B defeat. In Joe Allen and Steven Davis, both nations have an under-appreciated Premier League midfielder capable of dictating the play if given plenty of the ball.
“Possession doesn’t win you a game, it depends what you do with it,” Coleman said. In that respect, both teams will be hoping Allen and Davis can set the tempo for their respective sides.
SHOULD O’NEILL SHAKE THINGS UP?
Northern Ireland’s energy-sapping 1-0 loss to Germany in the same venue came four days before this fixture
and a lot of O’Neill’s unchanged team looked to be running on empty.
Defender Aaron Hughes, 36, may lack the legs to keep tabs on Bale from right-back, with Manchester United’s Paddy McNair, 21, perhaps a more shrewd option, while switching Conor Washington for Kyle Lafferty should be another consideration.
CAN MCGOVERN KEEP UP IMPRESSIVE FORM?
Michael McGovern has made a tournament-high 15 saves so far and is one of the biggest factors in Northern Ireland’s qualification for the round of 16. Clubs are lining up for his service too but can the goalkeeper prove his worth by continuing his remarkable form with the pressure of the knockout phase?
He performed phenomenally in the group games but perhaps Michael O’Neill needs to take a look at his defence and get them more organised. McGovern can’t be expected to face a barrage of attacks and keep pulling off saves.