A fine first-half display ensured Iceland got their UEFA EURO 2008™ Group F qualifying campaign off to a flying start in Belfast today.
Inspired by FC Barcelona's summer recruit Eidur Gudjohnsen, Iceland scored two early goals through Gunnar Thorvaldsson and Hermann Hreidarsson. Gudjohnsen then put the seal on a fine captain's performance with the third just before half-time. It was his 17th goal in 41 internationals, making him Iceland's joint-top scorer with the great Ríkhardur Jónsson.
After some impressive showings in their 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, including a 1-0 home win against England, Northern Ireland had high hopes at Windsor Park. Debutant midfielder Sammy Clingan and striker David Healy both went close early on, but Iceland were in front on 13 minutes. Brynjar Gunnarsson played a ball over the top and Thorvaldsson was first to react, slotting the ball into the corner.
The lead was extended in the 20th minute with Hreidarsson scoring at the back post from Johannes Gudjónsson's corner. Northern Ireland were rattled and Steven Davis strode forward only for the goalkeeper to save his effort. Iceland almost added a third in the 26th minute but a header from Ívan Ingimarsson went marginally wide.
Stuart Elliott gave Northern Ireland a glimmer of hope when he fired in a free-kick after 34 minutes but Hreidarsson cleared off the line to maintain the two-goal cushion. The visitors made it 3-0 in the 37th minute when Gudjohnsen finished clinically after a cross from Grétar Steinsson was only partially cleared. Gudjohnsen remained in masterful form in the second half but, with the match won, will have minded little that no further goals were forthcoming.