SOCCER

Belgium and Iceland illustrate how thin the margins are in Euro Group D with a hard-fought draw

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MANCHESTER, England — Sunday’s 1-1 draw between Belgium and Iceland served as a 90-minute advertisement for why Group D are the hardest to call at these Euros.

The collective body language of full-time Iceland, a sea of ​​hands on their heads and pained looks skyward, suggested they felt the hardest hit, but it was a match in which both teams struggled. missed opportunities to take what would have been a priceless opening win. given the upcoming games against France and Italy.

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“We deserved better, but that’s the way it is,” Iceland winger Sveindis Jane Jonsdottir said after the game. “We have to keep going, see what we did well and take it with us in the next games.”

The two teams were visibly suspicious of each other before kick-off. Belgium adapted their usual 4-3-3 form to a 4-2-3-1, mindful of Iceland’s ability to play in midfield. Iceland sought to push the ball high up the pitch to force a Belgian side who have only played their second Euros into making defensive errors, trying to cut the supply line of Tine De Caigny, the qualifications, and prolific striker Tessa Wullaert.

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A suspicious affair belatedly turned into a game of football, with Berglind Thorvaldsdottir missing a first-half penalty before finding the net five minutes after half-time with a counter post header, only for Justine Vanhaevermaet to equalize with a kick of his own. over 67 minutes.

The conditions may not have helped. Manchester is a city in northern England synonymous with rain even in the summer months, and so the 28 degrees Celsius at kick-off felt almost unfathomably hot, multiplying the physical challenge on top of the psychological challenge of well start in a group of such beautiful margins.

The combination produced an inhibited 45-minute opener, punctuated by a series of misplaced passes and a penalty awarded by Swedish referee Tess Olofsson during the VAR review, deeming Davina Philtjens’ arm to be in an unnatural position as she blocked Jonsdottir’s shot. Thorvaldsdottir’s 33rd-minute penalty was in line with what had happened before, badly hit and lacking in conviction, easily saved by Belgian goalkeeper Nicky Evrard.

Thorvaldsdottir didn’t wait long to be redeemed, however. Iceland started the second half with more determination, fending off Belgium.

Karolina Lea Vilhjalmsdottir’s 50th-minute corner kick was initially cleared with a header, but after the ball was returned in her direction, she took a moment to work into space before delivering a fine cross to the far post, where Thorvaldsdottir headed a header on goal. Evrard had made some fine saves so far but caved to Thorvaldsdottir’s effort and Iceland were ahead with their 12th international goal.

However, Iceland then stopped playing with the second half drive that had put them in a winning position. They began to sit deeper, allowing Belgium back into the game, and when Wullaert played the ball against Elena Dhont, Gunnhildur Jonsdottir blocked it and a penalty was awarded. Vanhaevermaet was not mistaken there.

Vilhjalmsdottir spun and shot wide before substitute Alexandra Johannsdottir eyed a header off target in the two most threatening moments as the match drew to a close. Iceland finished with 23 shots – only Spain (32) have managed more in a single game at these Euros so far.

“It’s a double-edged feeling to end up with a draw, but I think the game could have gone either way,” Vanhaevermaet said. “We had a very good game plan, but our passes weren’t as solid as they could have been.”

The tension that permeated these two sides was understandable. Belgium weren’t out of their group five years ago and England showed their limits in a comfortable 3-0 warm-up victory last month.

Iceland are still adjusting to a new coach after Thorsteinn Halldorsson took over from Jon Thor Hauksson due to off-field issues and lost eight of their 10 Euro final matches. They were roared on by the vast majority of a crowd of 3,859 which included Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir, who was seen in the city center fan park earlier today before having to return to his hotel to change because team colors are not allowed. VIP areas of the stadium.

If Iceland is to find the freedom to express itself, it will surely be thanks to Sveindis Jane Jonsdottir. Named Icelandic Footballer of the Year last year, the 21-year-old Wolfsburg winger provided the best quality moments, with several jerky runs that left Jody Vangheluwe often clutching in the open as that she was walking past.

She didn’t deserve to finish without three points, but in the end, everyone did. Time will tell in the tightest groups how significant this turns out.

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