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Sports

Portugal open Euro 2016 campaign against Iceland

media Cristiano Ronaldo will make a record equalling 127th cap for Portugal on Tuesday night. Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes

Pomp and circumstance descends on Euro 2016 on Tuesday night in the shape of Cristiano Ronaldo. The Real Madrid star is fresh from winning a third Uefa Champions League. Real beat city rivals Atletico in the final last month in Milan to hoist the trophy for the 11th time.

The 31-year-old struck the winning goal in the penalty shoot-out and removed his shirt to reveal his perfectly toned torso.

Were Portugal as buff as their skipper's physique, they would waltz to the title. The Portuguese should have won the cup 12 years ago. The scene was perfectly set: the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon and a side packed with stars. But the Greeks hadn't read the script and won 1-0.

A 19-year-old Ronaldo played in that final. In 2008, Portugal reached the quarter-final and four years ago they progressed to the last four.

On Tuesday night against Iceland in St Etienne, Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro will represent his country for the 127th time, drawing him level with Luis Figo as the most capped player. He's already the country's record goal scorer.

He is the acknowledged star of the Portuguese show but unlike two years ago in Brazil, Ronaldo will have a competent cast of characters around him. "The players in the team seemed to be in awe of Ronaldo," said Tom Kundert editor of the Portuguese football website Portugoal.net. "In Brazil I remember the first game in the group stages against Germany and it almost seemed like the main objective of the Portugal players was to pass to Ronaldo rather than taking on any responsibility themselves like trying to create things or score goals themselves."

Kundert added: "I don't think that will be the case this time around in France because there's an exciting group of emerging talents and alot of the squad is coming off very positive performances for their clubs. They're in good form and full of confidence. I think they'll be more than willing to take the burden off Ronaldo which, of course, will only help Ronaldo."

Head coach Fernando Santos has made it clear that he will not tolerate any shirking of duty. "We're going to play this Euro as if it were our last," he said. "We'll give everything we've got out on the pitch."

And Portugal will have to be at their best to unpick Iceland who were the surprise package of qualifying Group A. They finished second behind the Czech Republic with 20 points from their 10 games. The Netherlands were among their victims on the road to France.

They're led into their first major tournament by joint head coaches Lars Lagerbäck and Heimir Hallgrímsson. "Everyone knows Ronaldo is one of the best players in the world," said Lagerbäck, who guided Nigeria in the 2010 World Cup. "It's about playing against the whole team but of course we will try to close him down."

Hallgrímsson added: "It's no surprise that Portugal picked Norway and Estonia to play before the start of the tournament – both play similarly to us. They are not a team that play only one way so it's difficult to play against them."

With a population of 330,000, Iceland is the smallest nation to appear in a major competition. Eidur Gudjohnsen, the former Chelsea and Barcelona star, has come out of international retirement to savour the occasion. The 37-year-old is unlikley to start against Portugal but his experience of the big occasion will calm nerves.

"The main key to our success is our mentality," said midfielder Birkir Bjarnason. "We are hard working, we don't give up."

 

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