Iceland relishing life at Euro 2016 - and looking to extend stay

The sweat had hardly been washed away after battling Iceland claimed a 1-1 draw with Portugal on Tuesday to open their Euro 2016 before co-coach Heimir Hallgrimsson was eyeing an extended stay in France.

"Big nations say don’t lose the first game and it's the same for us," Hallgrimsson told reporters. "We can go into next game a bit more relaxed but with a win against Hungary we’d be almost there.

"It's a huge confidence boost to get a good result from the favourite in the group."

Iceland, with a population of around 330,000, are by far the smallest nation to compete at a European finals. And Group F currently makes pleasant reading for the minnows as they sit joint-second with Portugal, behind Hungary but ahead of Austria.

The Euros being expanded to 24 teams means the four best third-place finishers will progress to the knock-out stage, meaning some teams will almost certainly qualify with just four points, a target well and truly in sight now for Iceland.

Pundits took great delight in calculating what percentage of the Icelandic population had made the journey to support the team. Estimates varied from around 3 per cent being in the stadium to an astonishing 8 per cent making it to St Etienne - a similar proportion of Germans arriving would equate for more than 6.5 million.

The fans drank, sang and danced their way through the day, game and night afterwards but Hallgrimsson stressed the need to keep calm.

"We can't afford to have our heads in the clouds after this result. We have to get our feet back on the ground and think of Hungary," he said.

Midfielder Birkir Bjarnason, who scored the equalizer, was one of several outfield players who performed strongly while goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson - who plays his club football on loan in northern Norway with Bodo/Glimt - made a string of fine stops in goal.

"We were playing a really good team and the best player in the world," he said. "The last 35 minutes were really long after we'd equalized."

After the equalizer, Portugal's nerves began show and the temper of captain Cristiano Ronaldo, who waved away the attempts of counterpart Aron Gunnarsson to swap shirts at the final whistle, blew completely.

"It’s difficult when one team doesn’t try," Ronaldo complained to reporters, saying Iceland only wanted to "defend, defend, defend."

Even when pressed on the romance of an underdog over-performing, Ronaldo made dismissive comments about their celebrations and accused them of having a "small mentality" which was why they would "do nothing."

It could be pointed out that Ronaldo has the same number of international honours with European heavyweights Portugal as the Iceland players do with their lightweight country - nothing.

Instead, the Icelandic players and staff were happy to shrug off the sour grapes and focus on their own success.

"We proved tonight what we already knew - that we can get results against any team when we have our day," Halldorsson said. "That's just our way of doing it, even though it irritates Cristiano Ronaldo."

Last update: Wed, 15/06/2016 - 10:41
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