One week in and Euro 2016 has already delivered some intriguing ironies, the most spectacular one being Cristiano Ronaldo complaining about over-celebration after Iceland’s enjoyed taking a point against Portugal on Tuesday night. We’d recommend Ronaldo take a long hard look at himself in the mirror if we didn’t know that he already spends several hours a day doing exactly that.
“I thought they’d won the Euros the way they celebrated at the end, it was unbelievable,” complained a man who thinks the successful conversion of a penalty is ample reason to launch into a full Chippendales routine. “When they don’t try to play and just defend, defend, defend, this is in my opinion shows a small mentality and they are not going to do anything in the competition,” continued Ronaldo, who should know more than most what a ludicrous statement that was. But maybe in the murk of disappointment even this most self-aware of footballers forgot where he came from.
When or if he reflects more deeply on Iceland’s feat, the man from Madeira might appreciate the work that went into getting players from a remote island to mingle successfully with the elite. For Iceland, as for Ronaldo, it has taken exceptional dedication, a powerful and clear-headed determination, to develop natural talent to the highest possible degree. For Ronaldo that has meant hours of work with coaches and by himself on pitches and in gyms; for Iceland it has meant training coaches and building pitches and gyms.
Iceland became the least populous nation ever to appear in the European Championship because they had a dream and they pursued it with an intelligence and devotion that makes them a model for countries of all sizes, and a football nation that Ronaldo would admire if he were not too busy admiring himself or, more pertinently perhaps, lamenting the repeated failure of his own country to fulfil its potential. “They are not going to do anything,” is an absurd thing to say of a country with a smaller population than Leicester that has just held its own against Portugal after coming through a qualifying group ahead of Turkey and Holland.
The Icelandic players responded with due scorn: “He’s just a sore loser,” the defender Kari Arnason said. “He didn’t want to lose the game. What does he expect – for us to play like Barcelona against him? He fannies about and dives around.” And to add insult to injury, Arnason added: “We didn’t pay any extra attention to him.”
Ronaldo and, indeed, his illustrious Real Madrid team-mate Pepe might also have noted that Iceland played their way back into the game on Tuesday night despite not yet having been taught top-level jiggerypokery, which meant the naive islanders had to equalise without off-the-ball digs or outlandish theatrics.
Instead they kept resorting to crisp passing, clever running, valiant defending and standing perfectly still in a wall while the world’s most vaunted player kept bashing the ball into them. And they topped all that off with with one ice-cool finish. In their first appearance in a major tournament, they showed the belonged on the highest stage. That has to be deeply satisfying. Ronaldo’s whinging only makes it more so.
This article was written by Paul Doyle, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 15th June 2016 11.20 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010