Gritty minnows Iceland hold Ronaldo’s Portugal
Minnows Iceland earned a 1-1 draw with Cristiano Ronaldo-led Portugal on their European Championship debut as the superstar forward failed to score on a night he equalled his country’s appearance record.
A superb finish by Nani gave Portugal the lead before Iceland’s industrious midfielder Birkir Bjarnason levelled for the Scandinavians in Saint-Etienne.
Ronaldo equalled Luis Figo’s record number of caps with both the Portugal legends now on 127 appearances.
However, it was a quiet night for the Real Madrid forward, who failed to become the first man to score in four European Championships, as he was frustrated by Iceland’s dogged defence and a great display from goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson.
“We were on top, we were the better team and we played the better football, but Iceland are a good team and played a lot of long balls, which caused us problems,” said goal-scorer Nani.
“We had enough chances but we couldn’t score another one. That’s football.”
Iceland, the tiny Nordic island nation of 330,000 people, is the smallest country by population ever to feature at a Euro finals.
Their small band of supporters ensured one corner of the Stade Geoffrey Guichard was a sea of blue shirts and exploded in celebration after Bjarnason’s equaliser.
“We were playing a really good team and the best player in the world, the last 35 minutes were really long after we’d equalised,” said Iceland’s heroic goalkeeper Halldorsson.
“We can’t afford to have our heads in the clouds after this result, we have to get our feet back on the ground and think of Hungary.”
There was no place in the starting line-up for former Chelsea and Barcelona forward Eidur Gudjohnsen, 37, who was on the bench having come out of international retirement to play in France.
– Ronaldo kept in check –
Portugal had 24 shots on goal, while Iceland grabbed a goal from one of their four.
Ronaldo had a few early chances, while a bullet-header from Nani crashed off the boots of Iceland shot-stopper Halldorsson.
But the Fenerbahce forward was not to be denied on 31 minutes when Andre Gomes’s cross from the right fell into Nani’s path and he slotted coolly past Halldorsson at the near post to register the 600th goal ever scored at the European Championship.
It was a bitter pill for Iceland who had shown plenty of energy with the flowing locks of FC Basel’s Bjarnason a menace in midfield.
It stayed 1-0 at the break, but Iceland pulled themselves level within five minutes of the restart thanks to a superbly worked goal finished off by Bjarnason.
Iceland’s first goal at a major tournament came when Charlton Athletic’s Johan Gudmundsson’s towering cross found Bjarnason unmarked.
The midfielder volleyed his shot past Portugal goalkeeper Rui Patricio to the delight of the Iceland bench.
The silence of the Portugal fans behind their own goal was juxtaposed by the sheer delight of the Iceland fans as they celebrated a historic moment.
Having surrendered their lead, Portugal laid siege to the Iceland goal as Halldorsson was kept busy.
Ronaldo’s moment looked to have come five moments from time when he was picked out perfectly by Vieirinha’s cross only to head straight at Halldorsson.
And the three-time World Player of the Year smashed a free-kick from a dangerous position straight into the Iceland wall with the last kick of the game as the referee’s full-time whistle was met with delight by the Iceland players and fans alike.
A draw means it is all to play for in Group F after Hungary shocked Austria 2-0 earlier in Bordeaux to register their first win at a major finals for 30 years.
Portugal face the highly-touted Austrians next in Paris, whilst Iceland take on pool leaders Hungary in Marseille on Saturday.