EURO 2016

Freezing out Ronaldo key for Iceland

Portugal skipper Cristiano Ronaldo feeling the good vibes during training. His team lost to champions Spain four years ago in the semi-finals.
Portugal skipper Cristiano Ronaldo feeling the good vibes during training. His team lost to champions Spain four years ago in the semi-finals. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Co-manager also warns against possible play-acting not only by Portugal captain but also Pepe

GROUP F

Portugal v Iceland

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SAINT ETIENNE • Cristiano Ronaldo-led Portugal open their Euro 2016 campaign today eager to avoid slipping up against minnows Iceland and aiming to emulate their run to the European Championship semi-finals four years ago.

They lost to eventual winners Spain on penalties in the semi-finals of Euro 2012 and have arrived in France determined to win Group F and book their place in the knock-out stages.

But first they must negotiate their way past surprise packages Iceland, who beat the Netherlands home and away in qualifying.

The tiny North Atlantic island nation of 330,000 people is making its debut at a major tournament and is the smallest country by population ever to feature at a European Championship.

Former Chelsea and Barcelona forward Eidur Gudjohnsen, 37, has come out of retirement to be part of the Icelandic squad.

Now plying his trade in Norway with Molde, the veteran said it will be a "dream come true" when Iceland face Portugal.

The Iceland squad know that they must ensure a quiet night for forward Ronaldo to smell a chance for success.

But their Swedish co-manager Lars Lagerback also called for referees to be vigilant about the Real Madrid superstar's play-acting.

"Portugal have one of the best players in the world in Ronaldo but he's also an excellent actor," the 67-year-old said, while remarking that the player had play-acted during the Champions League final last month.

"In the final of the Champions League against Atletico, we saw another performance from someone who could be in Hollywood. I mention Pepe (the Portugal defender who also plays for Real). I mean, you can see the clips... for me, that is acting, really, of high class. I don't like that."

Portugal won their qualifying group by bouncing back from a shock 1-0 defeat by Albania in their opening game to win all their remaining matches and top their group.

Now winger Vierinha says the star-studded side need to again show what they can do on the European stage.

"We know that people consider us the favourites in the group, but we have to show that we are better than the other teams," said the Wolfsburg player.

First up, Portugal need to subdue a resilient Iceland in Saint Etienne.

"The main key is the mentality of the Iceland players," said midfielder Birkir Bjarnason.

"We are hard working. We don't give up. Many of us have been together for 10 years."

Striker Alfred Finnbogason is coming off the back of a successful loan spell at Augsburg, where he scored seven goals in 14 German league games. And captain and midfield general, Cardiff City's Aron Gunnarsson, is raring to go.

"I've done some extra work, which was something I was lacking in our warm-up games, but my form is in a good place and I'm just looking forward to the game," said the 27-year-old.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 14, 2016, with the headline 'Freezing out Ronaldo key for Iceland'. Print Edition | Subscribe