Kari Arnason, the Iceland defender, has responded to Cristiano Ronaldo’s scathing attack on his team’s European Championship debut by branding the Portugal captain a graceless human being who will always be regarded as inferior to Lionel Messi.
The smallest country at the Euros made a memorable first appearance on the international stage on Tuesday when holding Portugal, who have never failed to qualify for the quarter-finals, to a 1-1 draw in Saint-Étienne. That prompted a remarkably petulant outburst from reigning world player of the year Ronaldo, who accused a team representing a country of 330,000 inhabitants of possessing “a small mentality” and had the temerity to mock their post-match celebrations. “They are not going to do anything in the competition,” he said following a record-equalling 127th appearance for Portugal.
Former Plymouth Argyle, Rotherham United and Aberdeen defender Arnason has not taken Ronaldo’s condescension lightly. “He’s a fantastic footballer but he’s not a gracious human being,” responded the Malmo central defender, who enjoyed a commanding night against Portugal’s front line. “The thing is we almost nicked the win so him saying we weren’t going for the win contradicts that. We got a draw and could have nicked it.
“Obviously we’re not going to create as much chances as a fantastic team like Portugal but his comments are the reason why Messi is always going to be one step ahead of him. You wouldn’t expect Messi to say that. It shows we got under his skin. It was lovely to hear that.”
Ronaldo ended the game embroiled in an argument with the referee and, despite his reluctance to shake hands with Iceland’s players, did so with captain Aron Gunnarsson.
Arnason added: “It makes it even sweeter when he’s a sore loser like that. He can say whatever he wants. He didn’t really get a chance. He got one and he couldn’t put it away. What can I say? Sore loser. Tough shit. What does he expect - for us to play like Barcelona against him? He fannies about and dives around.”
The draw was particularly sweet for the 33-year-old defender, who was part of the Malmo team beaten 8-0 by Real Madrid in the Champions League group stage in December when Ronaldo scored four. He recalled: “It was embarrassing. It was a terrible game. Playing alongside Ragnar Sigurdsson is a bit different to playing with the boy I was playing with that night (Felipe Carvalho). Sometimes when you play with South Americans they complicate things a bit whereas here we know exactly what we’re doing and it feels better.
“We’d played Real Madrid at home before in Sweden and I thought we had Ronaldo under quite good surveillance, even though he scored two. One was on a counter attack that should never have happened and the other was when one man got sent off and he just buried us. He had a header in the final minutes of this game and a chance in the first half but otherwise I thought we had him under control. We didn’t set up to man mark him or anything, we just had to know where he was at any given moment and that he will shoot from outside the box and that everything has to be blocked.”
Group F witnessed another surprise when Hungary beat Austria in the earlier kick off and Arnason has cited Leicester City’s Premier League title victory as evidence that anything can happen at the European Championships.
He added: “Everyone loves an underdog story and Leicester is the ultimate underdog story, unless we go and win this tournament! Nobody knows what might happen. The work ethic in the team and the camaraderie and friendship within this squad is incredible and I can promise you no other team in this tournament has that.
“Obviously we’ve got loads of gifted players, there are teams who have better individuals, but we fancy ourselves against anyone. We have what we feel is the best organisation and we’re willing to run that extra yard for each other.”
This article was written by Andy Hunter in Saint-Étienne, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 15th June 2016 12.33 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010