Friday, 24 June 2016

Iceland 1-1 Portugal

Stade Geoffroy Guichard, St Ettiene

14th June 2016

How come”, enquired Wife, not unreasonably, when she learned which Euro16 matches I had bagged tickets for, “Iceland can qualify for a tournament like this one, but Scotland cannot?”

I shrugged a touch non-committally and briefly burbled on a bit about Scotland’s qualifying group being rather tougher than Iceland’s, and also touched upon the significant grass-roots investment began around 2000 from which the Icelandic FA were presently reaping the benefits.  

But, ultimately, neither of these I felt could adequately explain how a nation with a population significantly less than the City of Edinburgh could be enjoying the success it presently is.  And the most damning and inescapable answer I could come up with was that Iceland at present, quite simply, have a better football team than we do.  And that fact, and no other, was the reason Iceland were here in St Etienne this evening facing Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal, and Scotland were not.

Iceland v Portugal - Euro 2016

Iceland v Portugal - Euro 2016

Welsh Dragon in Iceland

Portugese fans

João Mário - Portugal

Iceland's Gylfi Sigurðsson and Aron Gunnarsson (17) get the business underway.

Iceland 'keeper Halldórsson saves from a Nani header in the 12th minute

Iceland v Portugal - Euro 2016

One of Cristiano Ronaldo's few bright moments came when he flummoxed Gylfi Sigurðsson with this neat turn

Similarly Vieirinha left marker Ari Freyr Skúlason in his wake

Happy Portugese celebrate Nani's opener

Raphaël Guerreiro and Birkir Bjarnason

Iceland v Portugal - Euro 2016

Bit of a messy scramble in the Portugese box, before Guerreiro hoofs it clear

Iceland's Kári Árnason attempt to make a nuisance of himself here, but to little effect.

Portugal's Pepe heads over, when scoring looked easier

Happy Icelanders doing their "Hoo" thing.

Eighteen-year old Renato Sanches came on as a sub for Portugal

The world's second-best player.

Ronaldo prepares to smack another free-kick into the wall

Icelandic 'keeper Hannes Þór Halldórsson plays his club football in Norway.
In fact, I noted, none of the 23-man Iceland were home-based.
Indeed there were as many Icelanders who played tor Welsh clubs
as there were home-based players in the Wales' squad.

Ronaldo's apparent smile here is just a prelude to another stint of moaning.  Iceland's captain Aron Gunnarsson just looks keen to get off the pitch, after Ronaldo has refused to swop shirts.  This is one of the reason no matter how many hat-tricks or Champions League medals he racks up, Ronaldo will never be as class an act as Messi.

With my usual underdog-supporting hat on, allied to the fact my surname clearly suggests I carry some dim and distant vestigial Scandinavian DNA, I resolved to lend my backing to my/our North Atlantic cousins this evening.  But as the match wore on I found it increasingly difficult to maintain my fealty, as the Icelanders tediously unadventurous style began to irk me.  If they did not quite “Park the Bus” (hate that phrase), then they fairly swiftly made it clear their prime intention here was not to lose this match.  Portugal, by contrast, looked lively and adventurous from the off.

Nowhere was the contrast between the two side’s respective approaches better exemplified than with opposing midfielders Joao Mario and Birkir Bjarnason.  The former was a delight to watch; lithe and elegant, always looking to attack and probing forward on every occasion.  Bjarnason, by contrast, clattered and thumped into everything within reaching distance; clearly one of life’s disruptors.  He was booked on 55 minutes, and more than a little fortunate to complete the match in my opinion. 

It was, therefore, grimly ironic that it was the same Mr. BJARNASON who scored Iceland’s 50th minute equaliser, helped out by some fairly embarrassingly amateurish Portuguese defending.  This was in response to NANI’s fine opener for Portugal after half-an-hour.

The aforementioned Ronaldo was a real disappointment.  For, apart from missing a sitter in each half and squandering innumerable free-kicks, he whined and moaned his way throughout the ninety minutes, like a child not getting His Way.  Clearly shooting fish in a barrel in the white of Real Madrid was more to his liking.

And yet for all of Portugal’s possession and ambition, it was the Icelanders who almost snatched an unlikely, and what frankly would have been a larcenous, winner minutes from the end, when Alfreð Finnbogason carved out space for himself aon the edge of the Portugal box, but shot straight at ‘keeper Rui Patricio.

Stade Geoffroy Guichard

Stade Geoffroy Guichard

If the Icelanders style of play failed to thrill, their fans certainly 
endeared themselves to me by their steadfast refusal 
to indulge in any of the Mexican Waves initiated by the Portugese.

Stade Geoffroy Guichard

Stade Geoffroy Guichard

Stade Geoffroy Guichard

Panorama of Stade Geoffroy Guichard, St Ettiene

The Stade Geoffroy Guichard is one of the few being utilised at Euro16 not either a complete rebuild or to have enjoyed a major facelift.  But it suited proceedings fine this evening, even if the brutal concrete façade did lend it a squat functional look.

The stadium is named, should you be interested in this sort of thing, after the founder of the Casino chain of supermarkets who, back in the 1920s, donated the land upon which the ground now stands. 

Stade Geoffroy Guichard, St Ettiene

Stade Geoffroy Guichard, St Ettiene

Stade Geoffroy Guichard, St Ettiene

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