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Bjarnason equaliser rewards Iceland´s Viking invasion

It is 3,948 kilometres from Reykjavik to the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard via ferry and car, a brisk 95 hours according to that oracle of 21st century navigation, Google Maps.

Whether they drove, flew or sailed in a Viking long ship, every kilometre was worth it for the Iceland fans who were there in Saint-Etienne to cheer their team’s first goal and first point at a major tournament, a 1-1 draw at the expense of Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Birkir Bjarnason’s strike will live long in the memory for the blue-shirted Scandinavian horde and the neutrals unashamedly cheering them on at Euro 2016.

Iceland had long been enjoying the fairytale of their improbable qualification since sealing a place at the finals in September.

Their heart-warming story reached a good-natured fever pitch as supporters flocked to France, seemingly peaking at the moment Gylfi Sigurdsson ran in on goal three minutes into the game.

The Swansea City star, having been released by a deft Bjarnason back heel and pass that left Pepe helpless, should have opened the scoring to stun Portugal, but the near miss proved to be Iceland’s best chance of the half and only served to jolt Fernando Santos’ team into life.

Portugal duly asserted themselves, controlling possession and deservedly taking the lead through Nani, who finished off a classy team move involving Andre Gomes and Vieirinha.

The favourites were expected to kick on from there and make the game safe, but some woeful defending allowed Johann Berg Gudmundsson to pick out Bjarnason unmarked at the back post, where he beat Rui Patricio to trigger a rare man-made eruption back on the geothermally active rock in the North Atlantic. 

Portugal, forced to respond again, resumed their onslaught, Nani coming within inches of restoring their lead when he flicked a free-kick just wide of the post with 20 minutes to go.

They went close again through Pepe and Ronaldo, who summed up his frustrating performance by heading a good chance straight at goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson from close range late on.

More will be required from the Real Madrid superstar and his team-mates if they are to end their long wait for success on the international stage.

Iceland, meanwhile, will benefit from having travelled so far south of the Arctic circle, affording them a longer night in which to party.

They may well be joined by fans of local Ligue 1 side Saint-Etienne, noted devotees of the underdog story after their own brush with glory in losing the 1975-76 European Cup final to mighty Bayern Munich.

The dream ended there for Les Verts but it could yet continue for Iceland, as they prepare for less daunting fixtures against Hungary and then Austria, with a route to the round of 16 sensationally beckoning.

Tue 14 Jun, 2016
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