Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, unable to fully utilise their opportunities, drew 1-1 with structurally sound Iceland at Stade Groffery-Guichard, Loire in a Group F encounter of European Championship on Tuesday.
Though the bets lay with the Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo and his party, debutants Iceland emerged as a compact team and organised themselves wonderfully to pull down Portugal’s incessant efforts at the goal. Despite Nani’s goal in the first half, Portugal were unable to build up on the confidence to induce any further damage on Ireland and let themselves lose in a moment that Birkir Bjarnason made the best of.
Iceland had an extremely bright start as they made two wondrous attempts at the goal in the 4th minute, both coming from Gylfi Sigurdsson, which were saved by Patricio to ice their attacking approach.
Barring the early attack, Iceland didn’t show much in the first half as Portugal dominated the game completely with continuous possession and regular attacks at the Iceland goal. Iceland seemed to be falling deep to defend their post and let Portugal make the runs.
In the 21th minute, Portugal had an excellent chance when Ronaldo put up a great ball in for Nani who moved well to detach from the marker and head it towards the goal. The effort was stopped by an exceptionally good reaction stop from the Iceland goalkeeper Hannes Thor Halldorsson.
Subsequently, Halldorsson made himself big to defend his goal as Ronaldo and Nani combined brilliantly to launch various attacks. In the 25th minute, Nani played up a beautiful ball towards Ronaldo in the centre of the box but Ronaldo remained surrounded and was unable to make a decisive contact with the ball and Halldorsson got an easy save to do.
The Portugal breakthrough arrived in the 31st minute when Gomes played a great pass in the centre towards Nani who made good space and shot the ball home. He scored the 600th goal of the UEFA Euro Cup.
What helped Iceland in the game was their physicality. They were aware of the advantage they had over Portugal and made extremely good use of that. As the half time whistle blew, Portugal had their control over the game established and they looked positive of the second half show.
A few minutes into the second half (51st minute), Iceland dug deep into the Portugal defence ripping it apart as Gudmundsson lay a great cross to the left of the goal where Bjarnason, being unmarked, got his foot to the ball easily and shot in powerfully at the back of the net.
A similar first half scenario followed the Iceland goal where Portugal enjoyed most of the possession yet again while Iceland organised themselves at the back. In the 71st minute, a wonderful free kick by Rafael from the left of the box saw Nani get his head to but hit it just wide. Rafael, apart from displaying his skill at the front, made a very important intervention at the back in the 74th minute when Iceland took a dangerous position to the goal.
Though Portugal made three substitutions in the form of Renato Sanches, Ricardo Quaresma and Eder, none could make the final impact on the game and in spite of having individual skill at their disposal, Portugal failed to put together a final ball.
Some late chances did come for Portugal in the form of set-pieces yet Iceland stood strong and compact to deny Portugal any advantage. Ronaldo failed to rise to the occasions and bring the decisive goal for his country.
With Hungary winning the earlier game 2-0 against Austria, when Portugal will play Austria on Sunday, it will be a battle for survival.