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Rugged Viking Gunnarsson Upstages Aristocrat Ronaldo

Iceland made their international tournament debut with a surprise tie with Portugal
By The News · 14 of June 2016 18:09:47
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo heads at goal on a frustrating night., No available, photo. Reuters/Max Rossi

ST ETIENNE, France — The contrast between the two captains summed up the difference between the teams as Iceland pulled off a shock 1-1 Euro 2016 Group F draw with Portugal on Tuesday.

On the Portuguese side, Cristiano Ronaldo, the immaculately groomed, handsomely paid Real Madrid striker who recently added a fragrance to his list of sponsorship deals.

Iceland's Aron Gunnarsson celebrates at the end of the game. Photo:  Reuters/Jason Cairnduff

Iceland’s Aron Gunnarsson celebrates at the end of the game. Photo: Reuters/Jason Cairnduff

For Iceland, bearded, red-faced midfielder Aron Gunnarsson who carries off the rugged Viking look to perfection and plays his club football in the second tier of the English league with Cardiff City.

On an historic night in St Etienne, it was Gunnarsson who emerged as the moral victor after his team, representing a country of just 330,000 people, deservedly took an unlikely point against the group favourites.

Ronaldo’s performance showed why he is still questioned despite his ability and dedication.

The triple World Player of the Year took every free kick in a potential scoring position, wasted them all, and missed an excellent late chance when he headed straight at keeper Hannes Halldorsson.

Gunnarsson, on the other hand, was inspirational. He egged on his team mates incessantly and wound up his opponents with niggly fouls before berating them for play-acting, all while managing to avoid a yellow card.

He continued the psychological war which co-coach Lars Lagerback started before the match when he described Ronaldo and Portugal defender Pepe as “excellent actors”.

EXASPERATING DISPLAY

It was a typically exasperating display from Portugal and enhanced their reputation for producing technically gifted players who do not quite live up to their reputations at big tournaments.

After a nervy start Portugal gradually imposed themselves and seemed to have done the hard part when Nani put them ahead just after the half hour.

But they began the second half with an air of complacency and left Birkir Bjarnason unmarked to sweep home Iceland’s 50th-minute equaliser.

After that Iceland were able to pack their defense, harry their opponents and play on their increasingly frayed nerves.

Iceland's Birkir Bjarnason celebrates after scoring their first goal in a major tournament. Photo: Reuters/Max Rossi

Iceland’s Birkir Bjarnason celebrates after scoring their first goal in a major tournament. Photo:
Reuters/Max Rossi

They even managed to get forward and create further chances by exploiting Portugal’s discomfort with high balls into the area.

Despite enjoying a whopping 72 percent possession Portugal struggled to create openings and, crowded out, Ronaldo was left to remonstrate with the referee at the final whistle.

“You can’t put one player down to stop a guy like Ronaldo. It has to be a team effort, closing the areas,” said co-coach Heimir Hallgrimsson.

“There were a lot of players responsible for Ronaldo tonight. We did a really good job.”