Birkir ‘Thor’ Bjarnson, a midfielder who plays for FC Basel in Switzerland, upstaged world football’s greatest superstar who equalled Luis Figo’s all-time record of 127 caps for Portugal on the night but who nevertheless left the field frustrated.
What a story this was. Tiny Iceland — a country with a population the same size as Leicester and smaller than Munster — gave one of the greats of the game a real run for his money and left the ground with a point in their first ever match in a major finals.
In a season of football fairytales, not least in Leicester, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. But for the smallest nation ever to qualify for a major tournament to frustrate a team with a ambitions to win the trophy was something special to behold.
In fact the Icelanders recovered superbly from going behind to a first half goal from Nani to equalise through Bjarnason and then hung on superbly in the end, even creating one or two chances to win it in the final stages.
For Ronaldo, whose side had more than 20 shots on goal, it was a frustrating night collectively and individually.
The Real Madrid legend has won absolutely everything in club football — including league titles in two countries, three Champions Leagues and three Ballon D’Or trophies. But the one thing missing on his illustrious CV is a trophy with his country — and he is desperate to put that right.
This is Ronaldo’s fourth European Championships and he has also played in three World Cups; but despite reaching the final of Euro 2004 and finishing third in 2012, he has never achieved his dream of international silverware.
But whether the current Portugal side are good enough to help him break that duck looks dubious on this showing. Earlier in the week defender Pepe, his teammate at the Bernabeu, insisted they have the tools to make it happen but the porous nature of the Portugal defence will be a worry for coach Fernando Santos. Not so for Iceland’s Helmir Hallgrimsson, whose men battled so superbly, led by captain Aron Gunnarsson, who plays for Welsh club Cardiff City.
The Ice Men — playing in a major finals for the first time in their history — came mightily close to taking a shock lead after two minutes as Swansea’s Gylfi Sigurdsson raced clear only to be denied by a superb double save from Portugal keeper Patricio.
But Portugal, playing with Nani up front alongside Ronaldo to provide extra attacking threat, eventually took control with an excellent move down the right flank. It was Andre Gomes — reportedly a Manchester United target — who played the final ball across the area for Nani to gleefully sweep home.
Iceland battled back admirably and their breakthrough came after 50 minutes when a superb left-foot cross by Johann Gudmundsson — from the right wing — was expertly guided home by Bjarnason.
Portugal went all-out for victory after that — but keeper Halldorsson kept everything out, including a point-blank header from Ronaldo which was perhaps his best chance of glory.
Remarkably, Iceland even came close to winning it when Patricio was forced into a fine save right at the death from sub Alfred Finnbogason — now that would have been a story. Instead the game ended with a free-kick from Ronaldo which was charged down by the Iceland wall; a metaphor in many ways for the match.
Patricio 8; Guerreiro 6, Pepe 7, Carvalho 6, Vieirinha 6; Gomes 7 (Eder 84), Danilo 6, Mario 6 (Quaresma 76); Moutinho 6 (Sanches 71); Ronaldo 5, Nani 7.
Halldorsson 9; Saevarsson 7; R Sigurdsson 8, Arnaso 8, Skulason 7; A Gunnarson 8, G Sigurdsson 7; Gudmundsson 7 (E Bjarnason 90), B Bjarnason 8; Sigthorsson 7 (Finnbogason 80; 6), Bodvarsson 7.