Norwegian football fans were cheering and all but claiming Iceland’s stunning 1-1 tie against Portugal at the European Championships (Euro2016) in France Wednesday night. Birkir Bjarnason, who scored in the second-half and robbed Portugal of an expected victory, grew up in Norway and started his football career at Norwegian clubs Figgjo and Viking.
Bjarnason and Iceland are thus the closest Norway can come to feeling some sort of success at Euro2016, since Norway’s own national team didn’t qualify to participate. Iceland did, for the first time ever, and since Bjarnason, who now plays professionally for FC Basel, originally comes from Iceland, he was among Icelandic football players called “home” to play on what many are calling the “coolest team” in the championships.
Bjarnason and his family moved to Norway in 1999, when he was 11 years old. Both he and his sister Björg Bjarnadottir started playing for Figgjo in Rogaland, Western Norway, and their football talents were quickly picked up. Bjørg, who watched her younger brother score against Portugal on TV at home in Sandnes Wednesday night, has played professionally herself at top levels in Norway, for Klepp.
She told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that Figgjo coach Bjarne Berntsen has meant the most for her brother’s Norwegian football career, coaching him until he moved on to Stavanger club Viking as a 17-year-old in 2005. Berntsen was also delighted with Bjarnason’s scoring Wednesday night in the tough match against powerhouse Portugal in St Etienne.
Veteran coach Tom Nordlie, now one of NRK’s expert football commentators, was his coach at Viking in the mid 2000s, and recalled that in a crucial match against Stabæk, “I sent in Birkir when we were down 0-1 and we won 3-1. He scored the last goal.”
Portugal’s super-star Cristiano Ronaldo was not at all happy after failing to beat Iceland, complaining on social media afterwards that Iceland “celebrated like they had won the Euro cup or something. That’s a small mentality. That’s why they’ll do nothing.” He went on to accuse Iceland of “only trying to defend themselves” and not trying to score.” NRK reported that Ronaldo also left the field without thanking any of his opponents for the match, and refused to exchange jerseys with his Icelandic counterpart Aron Gunnarsson.
Reaction was swift, with football fans firing back that Ronaldo was acting like a “spoiled child” and being a “bad loser.” The Swedish coach of Iceland’s national team, Lars Lagerbäck, merely commented that Portugal’s team “must play better than this to beat Iceland. It’s as simple as that.”
Bjarnason himself was jubilant: “It’s a fantastic feeling, little Iceland in a championships, it’s special for us,” Bjarnason told reporters after scoring the goal that sent Icelandic fans into ecstasy. “I am very proud.”
For UEFA’s own details of the match between Iceland and Portugal, click here (external link).