Iceland off to a good EURO start

Iceland goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson’s save from Nani’s header in the first half was the pivotal moment, and it kept the minnow in the game.

Birkir Bjarnason of Iceland celebrates after striking the equaliser against fancied Portugal in a Group F match of the UEFA EURO 2016 at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard in Saint-Etienne, France, on Tuesday.   -  Getty Images

Hungary's Adam Szalai (far left) rejoices after drilling the opening goal past a perplexed Austrian goalkeeper Robert Almer (yellow jersey) in a Group F match at the Nouveau Stade in Bordeaux, France, on Tuesday.   -  AP

Iceland joined the EURO 2016 party by holding Portugal to a 1-1 draw and earning a deserved point on its debut at a major international tournament.

 

In a fairly open Group F encounter, Cristiano Ronaldo and his men were left to rue their profligacy in front of goal, as chance after chance went abegging. Iceland goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson’s save from Nani’s header in the first half was the pivotal moment and it kept the minnow in the game.

Nani did get on the score-sheet moments later, but Iceland fought back in the second half and Birkir Bjarnason equalised after a defensive mix-up between Vieirinha and Pepe. A lack of communication allowed the midfielder to slot the ball past Rui Patricio with a cool first-time finish.

Ronaldo did not have his best game and would have had a hat-trick on any other day. But credit to Iceland, as it got bodies behind the ball and caused the Portuguese a lot of problem during set pieces, winning majority of the aerial battles.

 

In the earlier Group F kick-off, Hungary ran out a surprise 2-0 winner against Austria. In a game where passions were running high and tackles were flying even higher, the Hungarians played more like a team and took their chances clinically. Austria had more star-power with the likes of David Alaba and Marko Arnautovic, but the latter had a game to forget, as he did not track back to help out his left-back Christian Fuchs and was found sulking with his head in his hands for most of the game.

Austria meets Portugal next and could face possible elimination if it loses. Hungary, on the other hand, can book its ticket to the knockout stages if it can overcome a hardworking Iceland side.

After the first round of fixtures, Italy’s win over Belgium is the standout result for me. Antonio Conte got his tactics spot on and stifled an attacking Belgium outfit without sacrificing his team’s attacking ability.

Germany was better for two-thirds of the game against Ukraine and it will improve as the tournament goes on. Spain laboured to a last-gasp win over the Czech Republic, while I look forward to seeing more of Dimitri Payet after his outstanding display for France against Romania.

The only blemish of EURO 2016 so far has been the fan violence in Marseille. UEFA has told Russia it will be disqualified if its fans don’t behave themselves and the message will get through because the fans will definitely not want to see their team get kicked out like this, and it would a shame if the players had to suffer for something which is not in their hands.

I think such a hard stance will help keep things under control. After all, at such a big international tournament, incidents off the pitch should not be making more news than the ones on it.