Iceland holds Ronaldo's Portugal to shock 1-1 draw
SAINT-ETIENNE, FRANCE >> A goal from Birkir Bjarnason earned Iceland a shock 1-1 draw with Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal on Tuesday at the European Championship, the tiny Scandinavian nation's first ever match at a major tournament.
Iceland, which managed only four shots to Portugal's 25, was second best most of the Group F game and trailed to a first half strike by Nani. But its players showed resilience throughout, and took advantage of Portugal's profligacy in front of goal.
Bjarnason slotted home the equalizer in the 50th minute with a curled volley at the far post against the run of the play, moments after Ronaldo missed a chance to make it 2-0 when he shot wide.
"We should have scored more goals, there is no secret about that," Portugal coach Fernando Santos said. "We are to blame for that. Then there was this move. We knew they could play long balls and that they had good crossers. They were very pragmatic."
With a population of 330,000, Iceland is the smallest nation ever to play at a European Championship. It defied the odds to reach the tournament by finishing second in its qualifying group behind the Czech Republic and above Turkey and the Netherlands, defeating the Dutch twice.
"So many things are happening for the first time to Iceland," the team's co-coach Heimir Hallgrimsson said. "This is another first-time achievement. It was fantastic to play here. It was like playing at home, the fans were fantastic."
Nani put Portugal in front with a clinical finish from close range on a day when Ronaldo equaled Luis Figo's Portugal record of 127 caps — but lacked his usual composure and accuracy.
"It's down to teamwork," Hallgrimsson said of Iceland's success against the Real Madrid star.
"You can't put one player to stop a guy like Ronaldo. It has to be a team effort, closing the areas. There were a lot of players responsible for Ronaldo tonight. We did a really good job, well done to the lads."
After a tight start, Portugal won the midfield battle and Nani turned Portugal's dominance of possession into a goal when he collected a cross from the right by Andre Gomes and steered the ball home at the near post in the 31st minute.
Portugal had wasted many good chances before then, notably in the 22nd minute when Ronaldo found Nani in the box with a precise cross. Nani jumped higher than the Iceland defenders but his powerful header hit the feet of keeper Hannes Halldorsson.
Ronaldo sent a header wide and again came close just before Nani's opener, collecting a 40-meter ball from Pepe over the top — only to fluff his shot.
Playing high up the pitch, Portugal applied the pressure with plenty of movement off the ball and quick passing, forcing Iceland's midfielders to keep chasing the ball.
The pressure continued immediately after the break, when Ronaldo failed to take advantage of a ball that dropped to his feet, shooting wide while unmarked from the edge of the box.
Soon after that, Portugal was made to pay for Ronaldo's misses.
On one of Iceland's few scoring chances, Portugal defender Vieirinha lost track of Bjarnason at the far post and the winger volleyed home a cross from Johann Gudmundsson.
The equalizer soon lifted Iceland's morale and briefly unsettled Portugal.
Ronaldo tried to break the stalemate, leaving Ragnar Sigurdsson on the ground with a succession of his quick dribbles in the 68th minute. But the defender still managed to take the ball away from the Real Madrid forward's feet with a brilliant tackle.
Portugal continued to push forward in search of a winner.
But Nani's glanced header from a free kick flew wide, substitute Ricardo Quaresma's deflected shot 12 minutes from time was parried away by Halldorsson and the luckless Ronaldo had a late series of free kicks blocked by the Iceland wall.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.