As the Euro 2016 group stage winds down, the tournament has become a monumental stage for upstart nations like Iceland rather than historically dominant ones. Co-managers Lars Lagerback and Heimir Hallgrimsson have their side currently second in Group F and can even push for first-place with a victory over disappointing Austria Wednesday at Stade de France in Saint-Denis.
Joining already-through Wales and owning two points off two draws with Hungary and Portugal, the Icelanders will likely extend their first ever European championship run by earning a third consecutive draw and hold down a third-place group finish.
Portugal is expected to unleash Cristiano Ronaldo against first-place Hungary in its final group game, (taking place simultaneously as Iceland and Austria’s showdown) and should it secure three points than a third-place conclusion seems likely for Iceland.
But given last-place Austria’s poor form and that veteran midfielder Zlatko Junuzovic is expected to miss his second straight match, Iceland does have a solid chance of securing three points.
Iceland’s attack has generated a mere 12 shots, half of which have been on target with only two resulting in goals, yet it’s the work of keeper Hannes Halldorsson that should give the nation much hope against Austria and later in the tournament.
The 32-year-old’s registered 14 saves and allowed only two goals in two starts, including denying Portgual’s Ronaldo, while midfielders Birki Bjarnason and Gylfi Sigurdsson have provided Iceland’s only two goals. There was some concern after midfielder and captain Aron Gunnarsson, who’s second on the team with 61 caps, came off in the 65 th minute in the 1-1 result against Hungary but he’s expected to play.
“Everything is in our hands and we are happy at the moment,” Hallgrimsson told reporters Monday. “If someone had given us this before the finals we would gladly have taken it. We go into the game to win it.”
Austria and manager Marcel Koller also enter the match with hopes of victory, and know three points will likely be enough to advance into the Round of 16, even if the attack has yet to find the back of the net through two matches.
The Austrians will lean heavily on forwards Marko Arnautovic and Marc Janko, as well as midfielder David Alaba, who’s taken a team-high five shots, but like Iceland they will also turn to keeper Robert Almer. The Austria Wien player has 12 total saves, including six against Portugal and three of those came against Ronaldo.
“It was of course one of the better matches I’ve played for the national side,” Almer said. “As a goalkeeper, your job is to save as many shots as possible, and it’s particularly nice when this happens at a tournament against such a good side - and Cristiano Ronaldo. You have to take a step back and assess it, though. They had many chances when they could have scored, and that’s why we’re delighted that we got a point.”
Prediction: Austria 0-0 Iceland
Kickoff: 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2 (USA); ORF 1, SRF zwei (Austria); SkjarEinn, SiminnSport (Iceland)
Live Stream: ESPN3