Iceland fought back from a goal down to earn a historic point against Portugal, as Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo drew a blank in Group F. The result leaves underdogs Hungary at the top of the group following their earlier 2-0 win against 10-man Austria.
Swansea man Gylfi Sigurdsson was denied early on by Portuguese ‘keeper Rui Patricio, and from there on the 2004 finalists dominated proceedings, as Iceland looked overwhelmed coming up against the likes of Pepe, Joao Moutinho and Ronaldo.
However, it was ex-Manchester United player Nani that scored the opening goal as he turned in a superb low cross from Andre Gomes, beating Icelandic goalkeeper Thór Halldórsson in the 31st minute.
As the Portuguese saw out the first half in control, the travelling Iceland fans must have dreaded seeing their side slip to defeat in their first ever match at a major tournament.
If they were overawed, though, then the half time team talk given by managers Heimir Hallgrímsson and Lars Lagerbäck was a brilliant one. Over 8% of Iceland’s tiny 332,000 population was in France to watch their heroes and they would’ve been delighted with Birkir Bjarnason volleyed effort to make it 1-1 after 50 minutes.
It was of course, Iceland’s first goal at a major tournament and the fans in blue were delirious in celebration of what they may achieve.
The point didn’t come without scares though, and Iceland had to defend to their full ability. Ronaldo himself had a late header saved and two even later free kicks blocked by the heroic Iceland wall.
Much of the focus coming into this game was on Ronaldo and his hope to finally win a major honour with his country. He is their captain and record goalscorer, and he also equalled Luis Figo’s appearance record by playing his 127th international game against one of the tournament minnows.
Despite having won league titles in England and Spain, as well as several domestic trophies and three Champions League crowns, success for his country has eluded him, and many say he will not be fully appreciated as one of the best players of all time unless he can win a major international honour, just like legendary players Pele and Diego Maradona achieved for Brazil and Argentina respectively.
He left the field with a wry smile at the end of the game, having been frustrated by his opponents in Saint-Etienne and having seen his record breaking teammate Renato Sanches make his tournament debut. Sanches is the youngest Portuguese player to ever be picked for a major tournament – a record previously held by Ronaldo himself.
However, the story of this match didn’t belong to the world’s most recognisable footballer. Instead, it belonged to Iceland, their celebrating fans, and their impressive players.
With 16 of the 24 teams in the group stages qualifying for the next round, Iceland will be optimistic that they can go through. After all, they qualified for the tournament by getting out of a group that included the Netherlands – a country that came third in the 2014 World Cup.
After such an impressive result, though, maybe Iceland will be aiming higher than third, and nobody would write them off on the basis of this performance.