Iceland held Portugal to a 1-1 draw in their first ever major finals appearance, frustrating their illustrious opponents to claim a memorable opening point in UEFA EURO 2016 Group F.
The final game of matchday one was a big occasion for both teams, but especially for Iceland, and the debutants began with a spring in their step, almost taking the lead in the third minute when Rui Patrício was forced to save from Gylfi Sigurdsson – and to repeat the feat from the rebound as Sigurdsson tried again.
Portugal’s qualities on the ball soon started to tell, however, and Iceland goalkeeper Hannes Halldórsson pulled out an incredible save with his legs as Nani headed goalwards from a Cristiano Ronaldo cross.
Winning a joint-record 127th cap for Portugal, the provider on that occasion then mistimed his swing at a Pepe pass from deep, but a goal was coming – and Nani delivered it just after the half-hour, turning in at the near post following slick interplay between André Gomes and Vieirinha. It was a landmark goal, the 600th in EURO finals history.
Game over? Far from it. Given spirited backing by their fans, Iceland levelled within five minutes of the restart, an unmarked Birkir Bjarnason left free to volley in from Johann Gudmundsson’s cross.
Portugal responded with the crisper passing and better chances, Nani flicking a header wide and Halldórsson denying Ronaldo, but Iceland were not about to let their efforts go unrewarded.
Man of the match: Nani
Portugal’s scorer had five attempts in addition to his goal. He put in four crosses and laid on two chances for team-mates, completing 23/26 of his passes. He is the eighth-highest winger in the Player Barometer.
The Fenerbahçe forward was only denied an even earlier goal by a remarkable save, though he did enough in his 97th appearance to show that opponents ignore him at their peril.
More than plucky underdogs
Famously the smallest nation to ever grace a major final tournament – with a population of just 330,000 – Iceland’s presence in France has been framed as a fairy tale. In truth, it is the result of a strong coaching set-up at every age group back home and a talented crop of players. Tonight the newcomers gave an excellent account of themselves in Saint-Etienne.
Not content with sitting back, they could easily have struck first through Sigurdsson – and mustered an equaliser that their enterprising play and admirable character merited.
No panic yet for Portugal
Fernando Santos’s men were expected by most neutrals to win this match, and they will have left the Stade Geoffroy Guichard with a few regrets. How could they not after seeing 66% of the ball and going close to adding a second on several occasions? Therein lie the reasons for a little perspective, however.
Portugal look to have a capable midfield, gifted options on the bench and, in Ronaldo, a proven superstar who will surely find his range at some point.