"They celebrated like they had won the Euro cup or something. That's a small mentality. That's why they'll do nothing."
When the most recognisable face in football criticised Iceland’s mentality and approach after their 1-1 draw with Portugal, the nation of just 332,000 stood up and responded by calling Cristiano Ronaldo ‘a sore loser’. The best players in the world have an unrivalled level of confidence and talent but Ronaldo was kept at bay by Rotherham defender Kari Arnason throughout the match in St Etienne.
And that result was not a one-off. Iceland may be the smallest country by population to ever qualify for the European Championships, but having held Ronaldo and Portugal to a 1-1 draw in their first game, they repeated the feat with the same scoreline against Hungary in the second.
They even had the audacity to take the lead on this occassion, Gylfi Sigurdsson calmy converting from the spot shortly before half-time after Gabor Kiraly spilled a corner and Aron Gunnarsson went down under a challenge from Tamas Kadar.
It was a slender advantage they would hold until the 87th minute when Birkir Saevarsson diverted a cross from substitute Nemanja Nikolic into his own net, the 13th goal of an astonishing tournament to be scored at that stage of the game or later.
Iceland's defensive-minded tactics against Portugal, which saw them have the lowest possession of any side during the first round of group games (27.8%) may have been disliked by Fernando Santos’ side, but as Greece proved at Euro 2004 the entertainment value is irrelevant when it comes to grinding out results.
Similarly, Hungary controlled the majority of possession at the Stade Velodrome, but for a nation with 9.8million citizens they have a dearth of attacking talent, with Balazs Dzsudzsak, Laszlo Kleinheisler and Tamas Priskin all struggling to make an impact. They dominated possession had clear-cut chances, but if their top class players continue to fire blanks they're unlikely to make it very far at the tournament. At the other end of the field, Kiraly’s relaxed throw-out under his legs to his own defender arguably gave an insight into his mindset.
That’s not to say that Iceland don’t possess technically astute talents of their own, Sigurdsson converted the crucial penalty and his experience has proved invaluable for a team lacking in top-flight nous. Aron Gunnarsson also looked solid in midfield before he was withdrawn after aggravating a groin injury.
The deafening roar when Eidur Gudjohnsen came off the bench to play the final 10 minutes was memorable - one can only imagine the response had his follow-up from a free-kick deep into injury time not been deflected narrowly wide of the post.
Gudjohnsen’s iconic status back in Reykjavik sees him revered across his nation and he arguably puts the team in the spotlight more than any other player. Iceland have only lost once across their last eight competitive matches (W3 D4) and continue to close out games despite their lack of possession.
Sometimes the smallest of nations have the biggest hearts and despite an overjoyed Icelandic contingent being outnumbered by their Hungarian counterparts, it didn’t prevent the players from putting in a performance on the pitch worthy of any European giant. Saevarsson’s late own goal was cruel, but it didn't end Iceland’s improbable unbeaten record in the tournament.
However, despite all the praise for Iceland’s solid defence and terrific support there were sadly familiar scenes in the stands as trouble broke out before the match as Hungary fans had to be separated by police using pepper spray.
Having witnessed at first hand the trouble surrounding England, Russia and local French fans last week, it was a worrying repetition of what is becoming a tournament theme and is certain to lead to further sanctions from UEFA's disciplinary committee.