PARIS: Cristiano Ronaldo missed a late penalty as Portugal stumbled to a 0-0 draw with Austria, while Belgium swept to a 3-0 win over Ireland on a day of contrasts at the European Championship on Saturday.
There were mixed fortunes too for Iceland, which looked set to cause another shock by following up its draw against Portugal with a victory over Hungary – only for the tiny Scandinavian nation’s team to concede a late own-goal and finish 1-1 again.
If the Icelanders can at least console themselves with having scored, nothing went right for Ronaldo in a game where he set the Portugal appearance record with his 128th cap.
On a Saturday night just three weeks earlier in Milan he had scored the final penalty of a shootout against Atletico Madrid to win the Champions League final for Real Madrid.
But at the Parc des Princes, Ronaldo slammed his spotkick against the left hand post after sending the goalkeeper the wrong way in the 79th minute. Minutes later, he did find the net with a glancing header, only for the effort to be ruled out for offside.
Portugal coach Fernando Santos was stoical about another draw that left Portugal with the threat of an embarrassing exit at the group stage.
“We can’t wallow in our own misery,” Santos said through a translator.
“There is a final to play on the 22nd _ our first final of these Euros.”
Portugal’s next opponent, Hungary, tops Group F with four points, followed by Iceland and Portugal on two points each.
Austria now has one point. With hugely-talented players like Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne, Belgium came into Euro 2016 with plenty of hype about its prospects – only to lose 2-0 to Italy in its opening game.
On Saturday, Belgium certainly lived up to the expectations with its emphatic victory in Bordeaux. Hazard and De Bruyne were both in superb form and each led breakaways before setting up Romelu Lukaku to score with two precise low shots.
Axel Witsel’s powerful header past Ireland keeper Darren Randolph came either side of the Everton striker’s goals.
“Now we are awake,” Lukaku said, “and have to become even better after the performance of today.”
Despite its best efforts, Ireland was simply outclassed by a team ranked No. 2 in the world.
“I think individually they are as talented a team as any in the competition,” said Ireland coach Martin O’Neill, whose side will almost certainly now need to beat already-qualified Italy to stand any chance of advancing from Group E. By contrast, a draw will be enough for Belgium against Sweden.
Two draws from its first appearance at a major tournament is no mean achievement for Iceland.
But Birkir Saevarsson’s own goal in the 88th minute, as he intercepted a dangerous low ball across the face of the goal, was still a heartbreaker.
Teammate Gylfi Sigurdsson had converted from the penalty spot in the 40th minute and the team threw everything into a gutsy defense of its slender lead at the Stade Velodrome.
There was nearly a fairytale ending when a powerful shot by late substitute Eidur Gudjohnsen, the tiny nation’s best-known footballer, was deflected away in the closing seconds.
“We were so close,” Iceland forward Kolbeinn Sigthorsson said.
“It’s quite a big loss for us, this draw.”
The match was the latest to have crowd trouble and lighted flares – that will probably lead to a fine by UEFA – involving Hungarian fans.
As a 24-team tournament, the top two of all six groups and the four best third-place teams will go through to the last 16.
The third and final round of matches gets underway on Sunday, with a format that sees both games in a group played simultaneously. Already qualified for the knockout stages, France needs only a draw with Switzerland to win Group A – a result that would also guarantee qualification for the second-place Swiss. Romania, with one point, plays Albania, which has zero, in the night’s other game.