Euro 2016: Portugal v Iceland Preview

Cristiano Ronaldo: Portugal v Iceland PreviewPortugal and Iceland complete the first round of group stage matches at Euro 2016 when the pair go head-to-head in Saint-Etienne on Tuesday evening (8pm on BBC1).

The Euro 2004 runners-up have never won a major international tournament before, which is something they will be desperate to put right in France this summer. This could also be Cristiano Ronaldo’s (pictured) best remaining chance to claim a piece of silverware with his country. The Real Madrid man will be 33 years old by the time of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, with his influence likely to be diminished at that late stage of his career. Spain, Germany and France are clearly the three favourites to lift the trophy at the Stade de France on 10 July, but there is an argument to be made that Portugal are at least on a par with Belgium and England, who many consider to be potential outside winners.

Portugal were widely expected to line-up in a 4-3-3 formation in the run-up to the tournament, but it now appears as if a 4-4-2 could be the most likely configuration. It was that shape that manager Fernando Santos employed in Portugal’s 7-0 defeat of Estonia in their final warm-up game in Lisbon last week. He had Ronaldo and Ricardo Quaresma up front, Joao Moutinho at the tip of a midfield diamond, Danilo Pereira at the base and Andre Gomes and Joao Mario as the two shuttlers on either side. Pepe and Ricardo Carvalho, now 33 and 38 respectively, will start in the heart of the backline, with Vieirinha and Raphael Guerreiro seeming to be the leading contenders for the full-back roles.

Iceland have already pulled off a superb achievement by simply making it to the finals in France, with a second-place finish in Group A in qualifying – ahead of Turkey and the Netherlands, no less – securing the country’s automatic passage to their first ever international competition. Although Portugal are rightly considered heavy favourites to qualify for the knockout stage as group winners, it is not too difficult to envisage Iceland going through to the round of 16 alongside them. Even if Austria finish second as expected, Lars Lagerback and Heimir Hallgrimsson’s charges could progress in third place with just a single victory to their name.

Iceland will play with organisation, discipline and togetherness in France. Team spirit and squad unity are essential characteristics for a side of which little is expected. Lagerback and Hallgrimsson seem to favour a flat 4-4-2 formation, with Alfred Finnbogason and Jon Dadi Bodvarsson battling it out to be included alongside Kolbeinn Sigthorsson up top.

Gylfi Sigurdsson will play in a deeper role for his country than he does for Swansea City alongside Aron Gunnarsson in the centre of midfield. Nominal wide men Birkir Bjarnason and Charlton Athletic’s Johann Berg Gudmundsson are likely to tuck infield and ensure Iceland remain compact horizontally as well as vertically. Former Chelsea and Barcelona striker Eidur Gudjohnsen, who is now 37 and plays his club football for Molde in Norway, will almost certainly enter the fray as a substitute.

Portugal will probably prove too strong for Iceland on Tuesday, although the margin of victory may be smaller than many are anticipating. In that sense, the odds on a 2-1 victory for Santos’ side look rather tempting, while the in-form Quaresma – who found the back of the net twice in the thrashing of Estonia last week – could be a good choice for the first goalscorer of the match. Another wager worth exploring is both teams to score. Portugal look to be a little vulnerable at the back, and Iceland should be able to fashion a few good openings on the counter-attack.

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