Berglind Thorvaldsdóttir made up for his missed free-kick with Iceland’s first goal at Euro 2022, but it was canceled out by Justine Vanhaevermaet’s successful penalty to earn Belgium a point in east Manchester.
Entering the tournament, Icelandic star Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir described the prospect of playing at the Etihad Campus’s Academy Stadium in the shadow of her big brother as “embarrassing”. His argument held up as both ends were closed to spectators due to UEFA not allowing terraces during the tournament. Capacity was reduced by a third – there were 3,809 inside the floor – although Icelandic thunderbolt and drummers tried to make up for the thousands absent.
The heat dictated play early on, with both teams keeping tabs on the need to conserve energy on a sun-drenched pitch. While Iceland kept possession, Belgium seemed determined to play more directly to get the ball to Janice Cayman as soon as possible. None of these tactics resulted in either goalkeeper being tested in the first half hour.
Iceland created the best opening when they won the ball back halfway, allowing Thorvaldsdóttir to slide the ball past Sveindís Jónsdóttir, but they couldn’t control the ball to put it in the lead- one-on-one with the goalkeeper. She was put under pressure by Jody Vangheluwe, who saw the danger early and prevented what would have been a certain goal.
Belgian goalkeeper Nicky Evrard finally touched the ball in the 33rd minute after a long delay as VAR checked a penalty when Jónsdóttir fired a right cross over Davina Philtjens from close range. The ball went for a corner but the referee, after seeing a replay, deemed the offense worthy of a penalty despite the closeness. Belgium needn’t have worried: Thorvaldsdóttir placed her weak penalty too close to the keeper, allowing her to easily go down and hang on.
Less than two minutes into the restart, Iceland’s most dangerous player, Sveindís Jónsdóttir, showed off her dribbling skills with a long run down the left, beating two defenders before heading through on goal. With the angle against her, Jónsdóttir ran through the goalkeeper but Evrard’s outstretched leg deflected the ball in the air and he headed for a corner.
Evrard was left helpless moments later when Thorvaldsdóttir made amends for her missed penalty. The striker was hiding unmarked at the far post, where she had enough space to direct Karólína Vilhjálmsdóttir’s cross from close range into the hands of Evrard without needing to get up. Not everyone gets a second chance and Thorvaldsdóttir certainly enjoyed the moment, running away to a rowdy section of Iceland fans.
There was no obligation for VAR to get involved for Belgium’s penalty after Elena Dhont was clumsily tripped just inside the box by Gunnhildur Jónsdóttir. Vanhaevermaet kept her cool in the heat to send the keeper the wrong way for a thoroughly undeserved equaliser.
Iceland continued to have the majority of the ball but Belgium nearly snatched a winner when Tessa Wullaert found space 20 yards from goal and looked to curl a shot past Sandra Sigurdardóttir but she read the trajectory and put the ball behind.
Belgium struggled to deal with set pieces and crosses into the box. Iceland sent in a bombardment of corners and long throws for repeated pinball plays, but each time the Belgians did just enough to clear and hold on. Their coach, Ives Serneels, said: “We knew these were not the easiest situations for our team, but we handled them well.”
Cayman thought she had won a penalty two minutes from time when she was knocked down in the box as she tried to get around the keeper. The referee pointed to the spot but the joy was short-lived as the assistant referee’s flag was raised and the match ended in a draw, a result neither side wanted with France and Italy to enter a difficult group.
“It was a decent game, I think we deserved better,” said player of the match Sveindís Jónsdóttir. “We will take the positives in the next game. We had a lot more to give and we deserved more than a point. It was so much fun. I’m really happy with the Icelandic supporters we have here. We barely got along on the pitch. They supported us. It was really nice.