GAVIN HORSFALL (@GHorsfall) shares his expert opinion on Euro 2016 Group F’s clash between Portugal and competition debutants Iceland from Saint-Etienne.
Portugal v Iceland | Tuesday 20.00 | BBC1
Iceland is small. Almost 11% of the land is covered in glaciers yet it is home to a population of around 320,000, similar to Coventry where 11% of the land is covered in discarded Sports Direct carrier bags.
Iceland’s football team is quite a bit better as well, which is good news for holders of 300/1 ante-post vouchers for Euro 2016, a position that already looks profitable after the 34th ranked best team in the world outstayed both Turkey and Holland in Group A to qualify for a major tournament for the first time.
Lars Lagerback knows how to setup a team or two and steered Iceland through a campaign that saw them concede just six times – including two clean sheets home and away against the Dutch. It’s been pretty average fayre since then though, letting a two-goal lead slip at home to Latvia when already qualified wouldn’t have gone down well with the ex-Swedish coach, and neither would the 10 goals in four games they’ve shipped in the run-up.
Largerback knows the importance of preparation but it’s the passages of play they can’t prepare for that make them vulnerable (which admittedly sounds obvious). Recent performances against USA, Denmark and Greece were littered with mistakes, blind panic in some cases when balls break free in the box after initially defending it well.
The need to focus for the 90 minutes won’t be understated either; more poor marking at set-pieces against Norway, in addition to that mental slip-up against Latvia, perhaps a bi-product of a squad that average just 19 starts across club football this season – that’s a full 10 games less than their counterparts Portugal.
Portugal need no introduction to a European Championship of course, runners-up to Greece in 2004, they’ve also seen three semi-finals in six appearances.
Coach Fernando Santos completed the steering job in qualification although it seemed laboured most of the time – seven wins by one-goal, where the decisive goal came in the final quarter in the vast majority, suggests exactly the kind of side that most people have talked up pre-tournament – cautious, aware of their limitations (an ageing backline) but competent and experienced enough to get the job done, however patiently they have to wait.
This should be a huge test for the excitable newcomers and one that will test their concentration to the limits. Like a boxer in their twilight Portugal will prod and jab looking for a weakness, questions will be asked and mistakes will be punished.
Iceland will follow Lagerback’s plan to the letter but I don’t like the form since qualification was confirmed – six defeats in 11 – and it won’t be easy to wrestle back that strong mentality everyone’s talking up after it’s been missing since October.
Tough to find a bet here but with no value in the scorer market here’s some nicely priced opportunities to make the most of an Icelandic lapse in concentration.
Portugal v Iceland – A penalty to be awarded (7/2 Skybet)
Portugal v Iceland – An own goal to be scored (9/1 Paddy Power)