An unexpected result and fine comeback? Check. A weird Ronaldo-inspired sideshow? Check. Criticism of their style? Check. A near miracle? Check. That near miracle ripped from their grasp? Check.
Luckily hard work and unyielding optimism seem to feature strongly in the emotions of this team. So it was not long after they sat in silence trying to absorb the blow of a first finals victory being whisked away by Bikir Saevarsson’s late own-goal against Hungary that they got up and decided to put their best foot forward. Shortly after the final whistle confirmed the standings at the end of matchday two, Icelandic football’s official Twitter feed posted the very upbeat message: “Iceland can still end on top of F-group!”
Still undefeated, which is an achievement in itself, Iceland’s focus as they returned to their Annecy training base has sharpened on the positives (and indeed on how to turn the negatives in their performances into something more rewarding). The midfielder Bikir Bjarnarson insists they will “go for the win” in their final group game against Austria.
“Of course we still believe,” he said. “We have two points and one game left. So why not? Austria are a good team but we are a good team as well. We have to play better if we want to beat them and we will.
“We will be ready. We will play our game. Of course we will play football – we have to play more football and we know that. We didn’t do that enough against Hungary and it wasn’t good enough. We have to change that.”
Their coaching staff felt the more the team were sucked back to sit deep as Hungary pressed to equalise Gylfi Sigurdsson’s penalty, the more draining it became. Lapses of concentration and desperate measures are more likely for a team penned in, as they were for much of the second half.
The call to be more smart in releasing the pressure on themselves when they have the ball is crucial. The co-coach Heimir Hallgrimsson reckoned the late equaliser “was probably down to tiredness in the end”. He cited the possession statistics which were 70-30 in Hungary’s favour. “You need energy levels to keep that up. We were a bit disappointed with how unclever we were in the end.”
Finding a balance between their proud defensive resilience and an ability to control the game and be more purposeful after winning the ball is what they intend to work on before facing Austria on Wednesday at the Stade de France. Hungary take on Portugal at the same time and Group F has proved tight enough for all four teams to have something to cling to. Telling themselves they can still top the group is an inspiring form of Icelandic motivation.
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