On this day in 2016: Iceland hold Portugal to a 1-1 draw on Euro debut

Iceland held Portugal to a 1-1 draw in their first-ever appearance in the Euros, frustrating their illustrious opponents to claim a memorable opening point.

Birkir Bjarnason scored a fantastic goal from Johann Gudmundsson's cross. (Image Credit: Twitter)
By Arnab Mukherji | Jun 14, 2021 | 4 Min Read follow icon Follow Us

Iceland held Portugal to a 1-1 draw in their first-ever appearance in the Euros on this day (14 June) in 2016. The latter may have been the more illustrious opponents on the day, but they were forced to settle for a point in the Group F encounter of the 2016 edition of the Euros. The final game of Matchday one witnessed a spring in the steps of the Iceland players, who nearly took the lead in the third minute. Rui Patricio was forced to dive hard in order to complete a save from Gylfi Sigurdsson. Sigurdsson attempted to convert from the rebound, only to be denied again.

Portugal realised the danger posed by the Iceland players and tried to dominate the game as early as possible. Iceland goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson was forced to pull off an incredible save with his legs, as Nani headed towards the goal following a fine cross from Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo’s qualities on the ball are known to one and all. However, the man who has usually been hailed for his inch-perfect passes, finishing and crossing mistimed a swing at a pass from Pepe from deep. Ronaldo who was making a joint-record 127th appearance for Portugal expressed his disappointment following the miss. The legendary footballer equalled Luis Figo’s record after being named in the starting 11.

“Ronaldo is a very important player for the national team. He’s one of the best players in the world and the most expensive player ever. When he’s at his best, he’s unstoppable. I don’t agree when people say he plays better for Real Madrid than for Portugal because it’s completely different playing for your club than for your national team. Everything he’s accomplished for Portugal proves his qualities and how he gives his all when he wears the Portuguese shirt. If you’re the most important player, then of course there’s pressure. I think he can manage it because he’s been playing at a high level all his life. He’s used to having to give his best in every game, and needing to score and make the difference,” said Figo as quoted by UEFA.

However, Ronaldo needn’t have worried despite the miss, as Nani delivered the opener just after the half-hour. The former Manchester United footballer turned in at the near post, following some fine interplay between Andre Gomes and Vieirinha. The goal may have been an excellent one. However, it was a landmark goal at the same time, marking the 600th goal in the history of the Euros.

Iceland’s fierce comeback

Iceland however did not get intimidated by the fine display of their opponents, scoring a leveller just five minutes after the restart. The beautiful support of the fans paid dividends as an unmarked Birkir Bjarnason left free to volley in from Johann Gudmundsson’s cross. Portugal attempted their best to respond with a winner, following some crisp passing and creation of chances. Nani flicked a header wide with Halldorsson denying Ronaldo. However, Iceland held on to record a fine draw.

Nani was named as the Man of the Match having recorded five attempts on goal in addition to his fantastic goal. The winger delivered four crosses, creating two chances for his teammates as well as completing 23 passes out of a total of 26. The footballer certainly sent out a strong message of intent with his performance, urging the opponents to take him for granted at their peril.

The smallest nation to ever grace a major tournament with a population of just 3,30,000 gave the world an indication of their prowess. A strong coaching set-up at every age group back home and a fiercely motivated group of players, motivated the newcomers to deliver an excellent account of themselves in Saint-Etienne.

“It was a very difficult game, we were defending for maybe 88 minutes. I’m close to losing my voice – we needed to speak together a lot and run a lot without the ball,” said attacking midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson. Sigurdsson had words of praise for the fans, who cheered the players through thick and thin.

“That was crazy. It’s amazing when everyone was singing the same song before the game. I think every single player got goosebumps listening. It was good getting a point so that the supporters can have a great time tonight. We’ll take a lot of confidence from this. Our first game at a major tournament and it’s nice seeing that we are good enough to play at this level,” he added.

Iceland’s joint coach Heimir Hallgrímsson further stated that he felt speechless and humbled, following the affection shown by the fans.

“I am just speechless and humbled for having experienced this. I think it’s the best performance the Icelandic supporters have ever showed,” he stated.

Portugal went on to win the 2016 edition of the Euros, defeating France in the final of an exciting tournament.

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