Mark O’Haire’s Euro Tips – Portugal v Iceland
Portugal begin their Euro 2016 campaign in a Group F encounter with major tournament debutants Iceland on Tuesday night in Saint-Etienne, with the Selecao eager to put down an early marker.
Portugal v Iceland, Tuesday 14th June 2016 20.00, BBC
This will be Portugal’s seventh European Championship finals and in four of their previous six appearances, the nation reached at least the semi-finals. Operating a little under the radar – and with the continent’s best player at their disposal – there are valid suggestions that this could well be the Selecao’s year.
Fernando Santos now leads the Portuguese challenge and having guided Greece to just six defeats in 49 matches, the defensively-minded head coach knows how to keep teams solid and hard to break down. So even with old boys Ricardo Carvalho and Pepe forming the centre-half partnership, I like this side.
Obviously, captain Cristiano Ronaldo is the headline act – since Euro 2004, the Real Madrid superstar has scored or assisted nine (43%) of Portugal’s 21 Euros goals – but this team has a lot more to it than just Ronaldo.
There’s class, energy and physicality from midfield thanks to Joao Moutinho, Ricardo Quaresma and William Carvalho whilst keeping goal is Rui Patricio, one of the continent’s most reliable goalkeepers. Runners-up at the U21 European Championship last summer, the Selecao have a neat mix of youthful exuberance and experienced campaigners.
Sure, the football under Santos has rarely been pretty but it’s mighty effective. Portugal picked up seven successive victories in qualifying – breaking a national record for consecutive competitive wins – to take top spot, earning an outstanding 73% shot ratio against their top-three rivals Albania and Denmark.
All seven successes were by one-goal margins as the Portuguese managed just 11 goals en-route to France.
And before the pre-tournament friendlies, the Selecao had won 12 matches under Santos – 11 of those victories were by one-goal margins with a 2-0 triumph over minnows Luxembourg the exception.
Since Euro 2012 Portugal have W16-D4-L3 in meaningful matches, scoring in 20 of their 23 competitive clashes. However, in all competitions they’ve notched more than two goals in only two of their last 22 outings, so I’m not expecting a domination of Iceland here.
Iceland are the smallest nation to ever compete on the European Championship circuit but Our Boys impressed on their path to the finals, doing the double on the Dutch as they collected six qualifying victories from their first seven fixtures.
The debutants shipped just six goals en-route with joint-coaches Lars Lagerback and Heimie Hallgrimsson instilling a level of defensive competency, a hard working team ethic and superb organisational skills. There was continuity too – no nation fielded as few players as Iceland’s 20 during qualification.
There’s a club-like atmosphere around Our Boys now but it’s worth pointing out, the Nordic nation haven’t consistently produced the goods for a while.
Iceland have won just three of their last 12 games (W3-D2-L7) and might be a little too reliant on Gylfi Sigurdsson…
…and his dead-ball delivery as well as Aaron Gunnarsson’s long throws.
Of course, Iceland do have attacking talent in Kolbeinn Sigthorsson and Alfred Finnbogason but how much service they’ll receive against a technically proficient Portuguese side remains to be seen. I’d imagine possession will be dominated by the pre-match favourites and Iceland could be forced to feed off scraps.
Considering Portugal’s aforementioned record of grinding out one-goal margin victories under Santos – plus the fact that only world champions Germany have won by more than a solitary strike at Euro 2016 (before Monday) – backing a repeat could be a handy avenue to take with 23/10 on offer.
58 and Counting
And I can’t resist taking a stab at the 4/1 on offer from BoyleSports that Ronaldo scores in a 1-0, 2-0 or 2-1 Portuguese success.
Ronaldo’s record of 58 goals in 126 caps is outstanding – he’s had another excellent season, he’ll spearhead the Selecao attack and will be in charge of all set-pieces.
From Euro ’96 to Sunday night, a huge 69/127 (54%) of European Championship group-games have concluded by 1-0, 2-0 or 2-1 correct scores. Add CR7 into the mix and we’ve a 4/1 shot? Yes, please.
Portugal to win by exactly one goal @ 23/10
Cristiano Ronaldo to score & Portugal to win 1-0, 2-0 or 2-1 @ 4/1
*Prices correct at time of publication.