A late winning goal. A spot in the knockout stage. The prospect of playing in the round of 16 against England.
It just doesn’t get better for tiny Iceland.
Delivering the feel-good story of the European Championship, the smallest nation ever to compete at the tournament beat Austria, 2-1, at Saint-Denis, France, Wednesday to advance from Group F.
And the reward from the greatest day in Iceland’s soccer history: A match against their heroes from England in Nice on Monday.
“Icelanders know everything about English football,” Iceland coach Heimir Hallgrimsson said. “We are English football crazy.”
Arnor Ingvi Traustason clinched the win for Iceland in the fourth minute of stoppage time, finishing off a counter-attack as the Austrians piled forward in search of the goal that would have earned them a place in the round of 16 at the expense of their opponents.
After bundling the ball into the net in the last play of the game, Traustason found himself buried under a heap of Iceland players, substitutes and officials who had sprinted onto the field to celebrate. The whole squad then ran across the field to jump up and down in front of their jubilant fans.
“It’s like having your family at the game,” Iceland defender Kari Arnason said of the team’s 10,000 supporters. “I know probably 50 percent of our crowd, or recognize them.”
Iceland finished in second place in the group, above Portugal and unbeaten with five points. Austria was eliminated in last place, failing to live up to its billing in France.
“Maybe the expectations have been too high,” Austria coach Marcel Koller said.
Belgium 1, Sweden 0: Zlatan Ibrahimovic chested the ball down, let it bounce and hit it. Wide. His 86th-minute attempt for an equalizer in losing to Belgium in Nice, France, showed the technique and flair that had made Ibrahimovic a star. But his farewell game for Sweden wasn’t to have a fairytale ending. The Swedes were eliminated from the competition while Belgium advanced to the round of 16, where it will play Hungary on Sunday in Toulouse. “It feels heavy, it feels disappointing but at the same time I enjoyed it,” Ibrahimovic said. “I got the possibility to represent Sweden in the European, so at the same time I’m proud. This was my last game in the national team and I will have many fantastic memories from the national team.”
Radja Nainggolan scored the winning goal in the 84th minute with a fierce shot from outside the area as Belgium finished second in Group E.
Portugal 3, Hungary 3: Cristiano Ronaldo came through. Twice. The Portugal winger erupted from his scoring slump, netting his first two goals at Lyon, France, and putting his team into the round of 16. Ronaldo’s strikes, the first with a spectacular back heel and the second with a header, helped Portugal earn a draw with Hungary, sending both teams through. “Our priority was to win the match. We failed do to that, but we hit the bottom line because we wanted to qualify,” Ronaldo said.
Ireland 1, Italy 0: A late goal from Robby Brady in Lille, France, proved enough for Ireland to secure a place for his team in the knockout stages. Brady’s 85th minute header ended Ireland’s 22-year wait for a competitive win over Italy and guaranteed that the team ended up as one of the best third-place teams. Its reward — a round of 16 match against France in Lyon on Sunday. It’s the first time Ireland has made it to the knockout stage of the European Championship. Italy will meet defending champion Spain next in the round of 16. — AP