Gylfi Sigurdsson ran himself into the ground and almost lost his voice but it was worth it as Iceland held Portugal 1-1. Our reporter Jóhann Ólafur Sigurdsson sums up what it means.
Article top media content
This was a game Iceland had been waiting a long time for. A game perhaps that not many thought possible some years ago when the side were languishing down the FIFA rankings.
Happen it did, though, and what a display from the players, exceeding the expectations of even the most optimistic supporters as the Icelanders held Portugal 1-1 to kick off UEFA EURO 2016 Group F.
- Portugal 1-1 Iceland: report, analysis, stats and photos
- All the build-up, match action and reaction as it happened
Iceland set the tone right from the start, not giving Portugal anything. They never seemed fazed by the occasion, as can occur with debutants. Though Portugal dominated the ball, Iceland gave them few chances and their work rate was immense.
"It was a very difficult game, we were defending for maybe 88 minutes," said attacking midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson. "I'm close to losing my voice – we needed to speak together a lot and run a lot without the ball."
The players were not the only ones to put in a great shift on Tuesday night. Iceland's fans really showed Europe how good they are. They began the day by filling the fan zone in Saint-Etienne before putting in the performance of a lifetime at the stadium. Their contribution did not escape the attention of the Icelandic players.
Sigurdsson said: "That was crazy. It's amazing when everyone was singing the same song before the game. I think every single player got goosebumps listening. It was good getting a point so that the supporters can have a great time tonight."
Heimir Hallgrímsson, Iceland's joint coach, also struggled for words to describe the supporters: "I am just speechless and humbled for having experienced this. I think it's the best performance the Icelandic supporters have ever showed," he said.
Some 7–8,000 people made the trip from Iceland for matchday one. That figure may not compare with some of the countries here, yet it is roughly the total number of fans that attend home games back in the Nordic nation, taking into account away allocations. What's more, it is from an overall population of roughly 330,000.
Their reward was a super result, although Lars Lagerbäck and Hallgrímsson's team cannot afford to dwell too long on it. Next up are Hungary, who pulled off their own magic trick with a win against Austria. Saturday's game in Marseille now has added meaning.
"The match against them is obviously a key one now for both sides. Both will surely look at it as a good possibility to get three points," said Hallgrímsson.
What's certain is that the Icelandic camp will approach the weekend in buoyant mood. "We'll take a lot of confidence from this," Sigurdsson concluded. "Our first game at a major tournament and it's nice seeing that we are good enough to play at this level."