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Sports

Portugal fail to break down stubborn Iceland

media Cristiano Ronaldo could not deliver victory for Portugal on his record equalling 127th cap for his country. Reuters/Jason Cairnduff

For the neutral, the aftermath has been more entertaining than the match. Portugal drew 1-1 with Iceland on Tuesday night in St Etienne much to the chagrin of the superior Portuguese.

The unfettered joy of the Iceland fans feasting on their first point in a major football tournament has been amplified by the carping of the Portugal skipper Cristiano Ronaldo.

Portugal reached the semi-finals of the 2012 competition and are regarded as dark horses for the 2016 title. They fulfilled that billing during the first half. They passed the ball with style and confidence, rising stars Andres Gomes and Joao Mario showing why they are coveted by some of Europe's richest clubs.

Nani scored for Portugal while they were dominant in the first period and they started the second-half in similar vein. But five minutes after the restart, Birkir Bjarnason levelled with a sweetly struck volley. Slightly disorientated by the effrontery of an Icelandic riposte, Portugal eventually recovered their poise to press forward in search of the lead.

But they met a wall of white shirts. By the end, Portugal coach Fernando Santos had deployed four strikers to hunt down the win. Referee Cuneyt Cakir even obliged the Portuguese by letting Ronaldo take a free-kick even though 70 seconds more than the stated three minutes of stoppage time had been played.

After the final whistle, Ronaldo, who had been making a record equalling 127th appearance for Portugal, remonstrated with Cakir. He refused to shake the hands of seveal Iceland players and later told journalists Iceland had been playing fearful football.

“I thought they’d won the Euros the way they celebrated at the end, it was unbelievable,” said the 31-year-old. “When they don’t try to play and just defend, defend, defend, this, in my opinion, shows a small mentality and they are not going to do anything in the competition.”

On that point, the Portugal skipper was wrong. Iceland had done something. They had not lost their first game at a major tournament. A squad of 23 mainly journeymen footballers from a country of 330,000 people had fought doughtily not to be beaten by a more technically gifted collective.

Not that there was anything neanderthal about Bjarnason's volley past the Portugal keeper Rui Patricio. It was unflustered and emphatic. It was textbook stuff. And the glorious swing of his right boot will be the backdrop for many an Icelander's saga of how they ventured from their homes to back their boys against a certain self-basting star from a European superclub.

Iceland midfielder Kari Arnason said: "Ronaldo is a fantastic footballer but he's not a gracious human being."

Arnason had first hand knowledge of Ronaldo's potency during Madrid's run to the Uefa Champions League title. Ronaldo scored four times as Real Madrid beat Malmo 8-0 during the group stages of the competition.

The 33-year-old claimed the humble attitude of Lionel Messi, Ronaldo's perennial rival for the title of the world's best player, makes the Argentine more adored than the Portuguese maestro. "Obviously we're not going to create as many chances as a fantastic team like Portugal but Ronaldo's comments are the reason why Messi is always going to be one step ahead of him," said Arnason.

 

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