Wednesday 15 June 2016, 01:55

Outsiders hold firm on day of surprises

THE DAY REPLAYED – Austria-Hungary is the second most played international fixture after Argentina-Uruguay, and the countries’ 137th meeting on Tuesday was the first to be held within the confines of a UEFA European Championship. During an encounter that burst into life in the second half, the Hungarians picked up their 67th win (2-0) in the long rivalry, a result that propels them to top spot in Group F. A little later in the evening, Portugal had to content themselves with a share of the points versus a spirited Iceland, who were making their debut in the continental competition. runs the rule over Tuesday’s suspenseful action.

The day’s results Austria 0-2 Hungary Portugal 1-1 Iceland

The analysis Unbeaten in their qualifying campaign (nine wins and one draw), Austria were many football fans’ pick to emerge as a dark horse at UEFA EURO 2016, and when Bayern Munich defender David Alaba, who tends to moves up to midfield when performing in Austrian colours, struck the post in the second minute, it seemed as if the game would be sticking to that script.

But instead of accepting this scenario, Hungary managed to overcome the odds in the second half, after Gabor Kirali had kept them in it in the first period with fine saves from Alaba (10th minute) and Zltako Junuzovic (43rd minute). Bernd Storck’s men took the lead in the 62nd minute through Adam Szalai, who got on the end of a through ball from Laszlo Kleinheisler and stabbed it home. After Austria’s Aleksandar Dragovic was sent off for a second yellow card, the Magyars took advantage of their numerical superiority to seal the three points via an effective counter-attack, Zoltan Stieber adroitly chipping the ball over the advancing goalkeeper three minutes from time.

Hungary sit on top of Group F due to Iceland’s draw with favourites Portugal, who despite dominating the first half and breaking the deadlock through a 32nd-minute Nani strike, could not find a second goal that would have put the match to bed. Subsequently, the resilient Icelanders, who had posed little threat up to then, dragged themselves back into the match five minutes into the second half, Birkir Bjarnason – curiously left unmarked in the box – slotting the ball into the net for 1-1. The tournament newcomers held on for a valiant point, which their fans celebrated just like a victory upon hearing the final whistle.

Highlight of the day “Portugal have one of the greatest players in the world, but he’s also a talented actor.” Those were the words of Iceland coach Lars Lagerback, clearly referring to Cristiano Ronaldo, a few days ahead of the countries’ EURO 2016 encounter.

The three-time FIFA Ballon d’Or winner would doubtless have liked to reply on the pitch in Saint-Etienne, and had an excellent opportunity to do so in the 85th minute, with the game tied at 1-1. However, the Real Madrid star’s header, from a fantastic cross by Nani, was confidently clutched by Icelandic ’keeper Hannes Thor Halldorsson, who proved that he can perform just as competently in front of the camera as he does behind it (he has previously made a number of successful short films and adverts in his homeland).

The stat 40 – At 40 years and 74 days old, Gabor Kiraly became the oldest player to represent his country in a European Championship match on Tuesday. The shot-stopper and his legendary grey tracksuit bottoms have been a comforting presence between the sticks for Hungary fans since 25 March 1998, when he made his international debut against today’s opponents, Austria. What they said“Erre nincsenek szavak (There are no words to describe this),” Hungary midfielder Zoltan Stieber, via his Twitter account (@ZoltanStieber). 

Next matchday Wednesday 15 June (all times local) Group B Russia-Slovakia (3 pm) Group A Romania-Switzerland (6 pm) France-Albania (9 pm)