Euro: Ronaldo loses battle with stonewalling Iceland
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.
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".
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.
Iceland were able to pack their defence, harry their opponents and play on their increasingly frayed nerves. Despite enjoying a whopping 72 per cent 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."
Ronaldo accused Iceland of having a "small mentality" on Tuesday as they prevented the Real Madrid ace from becoming the first man to score in four European championship finals on their debut at a major international tournament. "He's a fantastic footballer, but he's not a gracious human being and the thing is we almost nicked the win, so him saying we weren't going for the win contradicts that," said midfielder Kari Arnason., who was on the receiving end of a four-goal Ronaldo haul in their last meeting when Real smashed his Malmo side 8-0 in December.
And Arnason even claimed the humble attitude of Ronaldo's perennial rival for the crown of the world's best player, Lionel Messi, makes him more loveable than Ronaldo.
"Obviously we're not going to create as much chances as a fantastic team like Portugal, but his comments are the reason why Messi is always going to be one step ahead of him," he said.
Ronaldo had 10 shots on goal, but stormed off the pitch at full-time in frustration as he was denied by Iceland's dogged defence and a great display from goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson.
"He had a header in the final minutes of the game and a chance in the first-half, but otherwise I thought we had him under control," added Arnason.
In an earlier Group F match, Hungary won 2-0 against 10-man Austria. Aleksandar Dragovic was partly to blame for Austria's defeat in Bordeaux after being shown a red card in the 66th minute.
At the time, his team was only trailing to Adam Szalai's opening strike. But Hungary substitute Zoltan Stieber added the second after a rapid counterattack in the 87th to put the result beyond doubt.
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