Cristiano Ronaldo scores late winner as Portugal edge past Iceland

Cristiano Ronaldo scored a late goal to give Portugal a 1-0 victory over Iceland in their final match of the Euro 2024 qualifiers on Tuesday. The Al Nassr star netted his 14th goal of the campaign in the 89th minute, breaking the deadlock after a tense and tight game at the Laugardalsvollur Stadium in Reykjavik.

Portugal finished top of Group J with a perfect record

Portugal had already secured their place in the Euro 2024 final tournament in Germany, having won all nine of their previous games in Group J. However, they were determined to maintain their perfect record and end the qualifying stage on a high note.

Portugal dominated the possession and the chances but found it hard to break down a resilient and well-organized Iceland defense. Iceland, who had nothing to play for but pride, defended with tenacity and discipline, frustrating the visitors with their physical and compact approach.

Portugal had several opportunities to score, but were denied by the woodwork, the offside flag, or the brilliant saves of Iceland goalkeeper Hannes Halldórsson. Iceland also had some chances to score, especially from set-pieces and counter-attacks, but were unable to find the target or test Portugal goalkeeper Rui Patrício.

Ronaldo makes the difference in the dying minutes

The game seemed to be heading for a goalless draw until Ronaldo produced a moment of magic in the dying minutes. The 38-year-old, who had been quiet for most of the game, rose highest to meet a corner from Gonçalo Inácio and headed the ball into the bottom corner of the net, sparking wild celebrations among the Portugal players and fans.

The goal was initially ruled out for offside but was awarded after a VAR review confirmed that Ronaldo was onside when he made contact with the ball. The goal was Ronaldo’s 14th of the qualifying campaign, making him the top scorer of the competition. It was also his 128th goal for Portugal, extending his record as the most prolific international goalscorer of all time.

The goal was enough to give Portugal the three points and the win, as they held on to their slender lead in the remaining minutes. Portugal finished the qualifying stage with 10 wins out of 10, scoring 32 goals and conceding only four. They topped Group J with 30 points, 12 points ahead of second-placed Serbia, who also qualified for the Euro 2024 finals.

Iceland ended the qualifying stage with a defeat

Iceland, on the other hand, ended the qualifying stage with a defeat, their sixth in 10 games. They finished fourth in Group J with 10 points, behind Serbia and Luxembourg, who had 18 and 11 points respectively. Iceland failed to qualify for the Euro 2024 finals, missing out on their third consecutive appearance in the continental tournament.

Iceland, who had impressed the world with their performances in Euro 2016 and 2020, where they reached the quarter-finals and the round of 16 respectively, struggled to replicate their form and spirit in the qualifying stage. They suffered heavy defeats to Portugal (5-1 and 1-0), Serbia (4-0 and 3-0), and Luxembourg (3-0 and 2-1), and managed to win only three games, against Azerbaijan (2-0 and 3-1) and Luxembourg (1-0).

Iceland will have to regroup and rebuild for the next qualifying campaign, which will start in March 2024, for the 2026 FIFA World Cup in Canada, Mexico, and the United States. They will hope to rediscover their identity and passion and challenge the bigger teams once again.

What’s next for Portugal and Iceland?

Portugal will now focus on preparing for the Euro 2024 finals, where they will hope to defend their title and win their second consecutive European Championship. They will find out their opponents in the group stage on December 2, 2023, when the draw will take place in Berlin, Germany.

Iceland will have to wait until March 2024, when they will start their qualifying campaign for the 2026 FIFA World Cup. They will be drawn into one of the 10 groups in the UEFA zone, where they will face five other teams in a round-robin format. The winners of each group will qualify directly for the World Cup, while the runners-up will enter a play-off round.