Euro 2016: Iceland aim to defy the odds again
After beating the Netherlands home and away in qualifying, Iceland became the smallest nation to reach a major tournament
The odds that Iceland have defied to get this far are pretty astonishing but for reasons that are not entirely clear to anybody not living on the island, optimism appears to be rife back in Reykjavik that the team will do more than just make up the numbers in France. It is a lovely thought and the team, perhaps, have only themselves to blame for the raised expectations after they managed to beat top group seeds, the Netherlands, both home and away in qualifying. Still, it is hard to see quite how they top that now. The player regarded as key to their fortunes is Gylfi Sigurdsson, the 26-year-old Swansea star who, while perfectly capable, hardly seems like the type to take a European Championships by storm. The lack of depth available to co-managers Lars Lagerback and Heimer Hallgrimsson is evidenced in the number of players who have been involved in all, or nearly all of the qualifiers with the likes of Kari Arnason, (Malmo), Birkir Bjarnason (Basel) and Kolbeinn Sigthorsson (Nantes) amongst those who have been key. The group’s top dogs are not so daunting that anyone can be written off but a place in the knockout stages would be another remarkable achievement.
How they qualified
Surely the story of this year’s tournament before it has even begun, Iceland managed to defy the odds and qualify for France. With a population of just 329,000 - 1.8 million people live in the greater Dublin area alone - it represents quite some feat. In finishing second in Group A, seven points clear of the Netherlands, Iceland became the smallest nation ever to reach a major tournament, and the first to do so with a population below one million. Huge investment by the Icelandic FA over the last 15 years has seen the construction of 150 indoor, heated astro-turf pitches which allow children to play and develop their games all year round despite the freezing temperatures outside.
Managers: Lars Lagerback and Heimir Hallgrimsson
Iceland are unique in this year’s finals in that they have joint managers in Lagerback and Hallgrimsson. Lagerback came to Iceland with a serious reputation at international level, having managed Sweden to three European Championships and two World Cups. Appointed in a joint-role alongside former dentist Hallgrimsson, the combination has worked wonders and created history for Iceland on the international stage.
Star man: Gylfi Sigurdsson
The Swansea playmaker was crucial to Iceland’s qualification, scoring six times. That included a brace in his side’s 2-0 win over the Netherlands in Reykjavik as well as the only goal in their 1-0 win in the return fixture. The 26-year-old occupies the same role for Iceland as he does for Swansea and is equally as deadly when it comes to set pieces.
One to watch: Eidur Gudjohnsen
At the very end of his playing career the 37-year-old is finally realising a dream he never saw coming – that of representing his country at a major tournament. Since coming on to replace his father Arnor as a 17-year-old substitute in 1996, Gudjohnsen has spent most of his 19-year international career as Iceland’s most celebrated player. The former Chelsea man was only last year playing for Bolton before a short stint in China with the magnificently named Shijiazhuang Ever Bright. In February he completed a move to Norweigan side Molde, hooking up with manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. After 84 appearances for the national side he is still going strong and will look to bow out in the best possible way in France this summer.
Defenders: Theodor Elmar Bjarnason (AGF), Haukur Heidar Hauksson (AIK), Hjortur Hermannsson (PSV Eindhoven), Sverrir Ingi Ingason (Lokeren), Hordur Magnusson (Cesena), Birkir Sævarsson (Hammarby), Ragnar Sigurdsson (Krasnodar), Ari Skulason (OB), Arnor Ingvi Traustason (Norrkoping),
What President Trump says...
“Who needs Iceland anyway? A country the size of Central Park and they nearly brought down the world economy. Iceland can bite me.”