In the final game of the opening round, Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo will be looking to inspire his side to victory against the tournament debutants.
Portugal face Iceland in the Euro 2016 Group F opener at the Stade Geoffroy Guichard in St. Etienne that kicks off at 3:00PM ET.
The Group F clash provides an interesting match up between one team who have one of the world’s best player yet have flattered to deceive in recent years, against another who have exceeded all expectations with only a handful of experienced players.
Fernando Santos’ Portugal have a good mix of young and old. With an experienced defense consisting of Ricardo Carvalho and Pepe, Portugal are have the ability to spring into life with midfielders such as Joao Mario and Renato Sanchez.
It is unclear how they will line up. Some suggest a familiar 4-3-3 with Ronaldo in the middle of front three is likely, while some believe Seleccao das Quinas could go for a 4-4-2 with Ronaldo in a free role next to Nani in the front two.
Iceland meanwhile, coached jointly by Lars Lagerback and Heimir Hallgrimsson, will favor the 4-4-2 formations which was so effective in qualifying. The central midfield paring of Aron Gunnarsson and Gylfi Sigurdsson will prove pivotal.
The key for Lagerback and Hallgrimsson in the 4-4-2 system is that each and every player contributes defensively. In a side that kept six clean sheets in qualification, including both matches against Holland, Iceland have the ability to counter at pace once the ball has been won.
Much of Portugal’s hopes will rest on Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese star is fresh from winning the Champions League and, like other players involved in the final in Rome, needed some additional time to recover.
Portugal coach Fernando Santos is adamant that his star man is ready to go after being granted an extra few days rest and recuperation given the length of a demanding season in which he scored 51 goals in 48 appearances.
“He is very well physically, mentally and in terms of morale,” he said. “You will see it in the game. He is in the same condition as any other player.”
“He is really motivated,” added Santos. “He was extremely motivated to win the Champions League and he is even more so now because the European title is his ambition. He is ready to take Portugal to such an important success.”
Iceland’s star man, Swansea midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson, says that his country could be the Leicester of Euro 2016 and is eyeing a few shock results.
“What Leicester did in the Premier League is amazing, and by reaching the final of the European Championships we did something close to it,” Sigurdsson told The Times of India.
“We also play 4-4-2 formation and are compact defensively. We would want to try and earn more free kicks and make the most of them along with defending really well.”
“We’re not done yet, and everything is possible. The lads have been working really hard, the coaches have got ideas. We are ready. We are under no pressure at all. There is a big chance for us to reach the round of 16, so we want to aim for that.”
Ex-Sweden boss Lars Lagerback, who will leave the Iceland set up after the tournament, is wary of Portugal’s experience on the big stage. To add an extra bit of spice to the tie Largerbeck admonished Cristiano Ronaldo for play acting and diving admitting some of his performances are worthy of a role on the big screen.
“We’ve seen some Portuguese players diving. Portugal have one of the best players in the world but he’s also an excellent actor,” the 67-year-old coach said.
“In the final of the Champions League against Atletico we saw another performance from someone who could be in Hollywood. I don’t like that. I’d like it if they were able to watch the videos to retrospectively punish that sort of thing,” he added.
Iceland and Portugal have only met twice in the history of football. In both games Portugal ran out winners.
The last time the sides met was during Euro 2012 qualification. Eight goals were shared in a 5-3 victory to home side Portugal in Lisbon in 2011. A year previously in Reykjavik, Portugal won 3-1 where Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring inside three minutes.
As one of 2016 and 2015 surprise packages, Iceland were among the most entertaining teams in qualifying. Iceland finished 2nd in their qualifying group above both Turkey and Holland in Group A, whom they defeated on home turf 3-0 and 2-0 respectively. Key man Gylfi Sigursson top scored with 6.
Portugal sauntered through Group I in qualifying by topping the group with a 7-point margin and recording seven wins from eight in the process. The did fall foul to new kids on the block Albania in the opening qualifying game but assured wins against the likes of Serbia and Denmark make Portugal one of the tournament favorites.
Portugal prepared for Euro 2016 with two wins from three in a series of warm up games. After convincing wins against Estonia (0-0) and Norway (3-0), Portugal lost 1-0 away to England where Bruno Alves was sent of for a head height challenge on Harry Kane before half-time.
Iceland meanwhile played to friendlies in preparation for their first eve major tournament. They lost 3-2 to fellow Scandinavians Norway but boosted their confidence with a 4-0 win over European football’s whipping boys Lichtenstein.
Portugal: Rui Patrício; Vierinha, Pepe, Carvalho, Eliseu; Danilo, Pereira, Moutinho, A.Silva; Nani, Ronaldo.
Iceland: Haldorsson; Saevarsson, R. Sigurdsson, Ingason, Skulason; Gunnarsson, Gudmundsson, Bjarnason, G. Sigurdsson; Sigborsson, Finnbogason.
Portugal 2 – 0 Iceland – 5/1
Portugal 1 – 2 Iceland – 22/1
Portugal 3 – 1 Iceland – 14/1
1-1, 2-2 or 3-3 draw – 9/2
Iceland to win 1-0, 2-0 or 2-1 – 6/1
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