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Iceland freezes out Ronaldo

By Agence France-Presse in St. Etienne, France | China Daily | Updated: 2016-06-16 08:06

Portugal superstar held scoreless by dogged defense

Superstar Cristiano Ronaldo slammed Iceland for proverbially "parking the bus" in front of its goal as the upstart islanders from the north Atlantic held Group F favorite Portugal to a 1-1 draw on Tuesday.

Real Madrid ace Ronaldo had 10 of Portugal's 24 shots on goal in St. Etienne, but failed to become the first man to score in four European Championships.

The 31-year-old equaled compatriot Luis Figo's record of 127 caps.

A superb finish by Nani gave Portugal the lead before Iceland's industrious midfielder Birkir Bjarnason volleyed the equalizer on one of only four shots his team managed.

Ronaldo stormed off after the final whistle, clearly frustrated by his failure to score. Iceland's dogged defense was capped by an outstanding display by goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson.

"It was difficult over the 90 minutes because they scored one goal and that was after they had put every player behind the ball," fumed Ronaldo.

"They parked the bus in front of the goal. We tried our best, we created many chances and kept the ball.

"Iceland didn't try anything; they just defend, defend, defend. They had two chances and scored a goal. It was a lucky night for them.

"We're frustrated they didn't try to play. It's why I think they will do nothing here. In my opinion, it's a small mentality. It's difficult when Portugal tries to win the game and the other team doesn't."

Portugal is now under pressure to beat Austria, which lost its opening game 2-0 to Hungary in the other pool match in Bordeaux. But Ronaldo is confident of victory in Paris on Saturday.

"It's a little bit of frustration for us, but this is just the beginning, we're not worried about that," he said. "If you look at Spain and France, they are strong teams in the tournament and they had difficulty winning their first game.

"It was tough, but we are 100 percent confident we're going to win the next game."

Ronaldo was not the only Portugal forward to feel the effects of a lack of finish.

"We had enough chances, but we couldn't score another one," said Nani.

"It's only the first game and we have to win our next two games. We were on top, we were the better team and we played better football, but Iceland is a good team and played a lot of long balls, which caused us problems. That's football.

"We've shown we are a good team, but this was the first game and there was a lot of anxiety. I think we will relax from now on ... but we have to score more."

Coach hails plucky effort

The scoreline may have been 1-1, but level-headed Iceland coach Heimir Hallgrimsson was unable to prevent the word "victory" passing his lips as the Nordic side held Portugal at Euro 2016 on Tuesday in their first appearance in the finals of a major tournament.

An early second-half goal from Birkir Bjarnason canceled out Nani's first-half strike, and the Icelanders withstood long periods of intense pressure to come away with the draw.

"Our defending was fantastic; we were really organized and worked really hard. Apart from one or two situations, we were really focused and it was a total team victory for us," Hallgrimsson said.

A visibly frustrated Cristiano Ronaldo was effectively reined in by a disciplined joint effort from the Icelanders, with central defenders Kari Arnason and Ragnar Sigurdsson repeatedly cutting out crosses and hoofing the ball upfield.

"You can't ask one player to stop guys like Cristiano Ronaldo. It's unfair to put a player to mark him, so it has to be a team effort," Hallgrimsson said.

"There were a lot of players that were responsible for Ronaldo, and luckily he didn't have many good chances."

The team was cheered on by hordes of fans in blue shirts, many of them wearing Viking horns. There were an estimated 7,000 Icelandic spectators at St. Etienne stadium, or more than two percent of the country's 330,000 population.

"The Iceland fans were fantastic, unbelievable, it was just like playing at home. When the guys got tired, the fans just cheered them on," Hallgrimsson said.

He said Iceland would take a confidence boost into its next game, against Hungary on Saturday in Marseille. A win would likely lift the squad into the tournament's last-16.

"It's really good to have a point," said the coach. "We can go a little bit more relaxed into the next game, but with a win against Hungary we are probably almost there."

 Iceland freezes out Ronaldo

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo reacts as Iceland players celebrate at the end of Tuesday's Group F match at Geoffroy Guichard stadium in St. Etienne, France, Ronaldo had 10 shots, but was held scoreless. Pavel Golovkin / Ap

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