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Portugal face early elimination in Group F denouement
On American horse racing tracks in the late 19th century, the method used to determine the winner of a race was a wire across the track above the finishing line. A close contest between the speeding steeds would be described as going ‘down to the wire’.
Thoroughbreds of the two legged kind will go down to the wire on Wednesday night in Group F
Hungary lead the pool with four points. Iceland are second with two and Portugal – one of the favourites for the Euro 2016 title - are third also with two points. Austria prop up the affair with one point.
As the mischievous footballing gods would have it, Hungary play Portugal in Lyon and Iceland face Austria at the Stade de France in the final round of matches.
The final configuration could look different when the final whistle blows. Essentially whoever wins will progress to the knockout phase.
But schadenfreude hangs over the fate of Portugal. Skipper Cristiano Ronaldo won himself few friends when he criticised Iceland’s defensive display in their opening match on 14 June in St Etienne.
Portugal took the lead in the first-half during a dominant display. But shortly after the pause, Iceland had the effrontery – in Ronaldoland – to equalise and the squalid shamelessness to hold on for the draw. Cue hissy fits, self-basting and griping as the world’s highest paid sportsman derided a band of Icelandic journeymen for a doughty display under immense pressure.
Ronaldo called their tactics small minded adding that they wouldn’t go far in the tournament. Ronaldo’s 79th minute penalty miss in the second pool match against Austria on 18 June in Paris didn’t help Portugal's cause. The match, which ended 0-0, means if Iceland beat Austria and Hungary draw with Portugal, the Icelanders will be voyaging further into the competition than Portugal.
"Who would have thought that we'd be top of the group with four points and that Portugal would need to win to qualify?" said the Hungary coach Bernd Storck.
"We have nothing to lose, Portugal have to win. This is a big surprise for everyone and I can't compliment my team enough."
The Portugal coach, Fernando Santos, underlined his faith in his captain on the eve of the match. "Ronaldo is a player who scores a lot of goals and I'm sure he will score in the next game against Hungary," said Santos. "Cristiano will keep on taking our free kicks and penalties.
He added: “We love him, the whole of Portugal loves him. He will give his best to produce a good performance."
No nagging doubts then for Santos.