Group D: Iceland continue to punch above their weight

Heimir Hallgrímsson’s side represent the smallest nation to appear at the World Cup

Iceland boss Heimir Hallgrimsson. Photograph: Francois Nel/Getty

Iceland boss Heimir Hallgrimsson. Photograph: Francois Nel/Getty

 

Iceland (250-1)

Who are they?

Iceland were one of the stories of the 2016 European Championships, with 10 per cent of the tiny island flocking to France for their nation’s maiden international tournament appearance. And it was a campaign to remember, as they beat England in the last-16 to reach the quarter-finals, with their ‘Viking-clap’ rising to prominence on the terraces (yeah, thanks a lot Iceland). They are officially the smallest ever nation to make it to the World Cup with a population in the region of 330,000 and qualification is a remarkable success given their limited playing resources.

Yet what Iceland lack in numbers they more than make up for in team spirit and work ethic. Heimir Hallgrímsson – with the help of former joint-boss Lars Lagerbäck – has moulded a tight-knit and well organised side, whose unity and organisation allows them to punch well above their weight. Iceland play a direct style –  the long throw is one of their favoured weapons – but they also have a touch of class about them. Gylfi Sigurdsson endured a difficult first season at Everton following his big-money move from Swansea and faces a battle to be fit for the group stages, but he remains the side’s talisman and main threat. Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson enjoyed a fine campaign with Burnley as the Clarets finished seventh in the Premier League – an achievement forged on the same ethics which have sparked Iceland’s incredible rise.

World Cup moment

This is Iceland’s first World Cup, and just their second major tournament appearance after Euro 2016.

How did they get here?

Rather than falling away after their heroics in France, Iceland built on that fine campaign by finishing top of Group I ahead of Croatia – a final round 2-0 win over Kosovo booking their ticket to Russia.

The gaffer

Heimir Hallgrímsson joined the Iceland set-up as Lars Lagerbäck’s assistant in 2011, and was promoted to joint-manager after they missed out on qualification for Brazil in 2014. Hallgrímsson has been flying solo since Euro 2016, and has done a fine job thus far, steering the side to a maiden World Cup.

The main man

Getting Gylfi Sigurdsson back from injury will be key to Iceland’s hopes of making it out of the group stages. Iceland play a direct style but are at their best when Sigurdsson offers a touch of finesse and guile. His ability over the dead ball is also a major asset.

Johann Berg Gudmundsson (L) celebrates with Birkir Bjarnason and Gylfi Sigurdsson after scoring against Kosovo. Photograph: Haraldur Gudjonsson/AFP/Getty
Johann Berg Gudmundsson (L) celebrates with Birkir Bjarnason and Gylfi Sigurdsson after scoring against Kosovo. Photograph: Haraldur Gudjonsson/AFP/Getty

The one to watch

Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson is vital cog in two teams who have been punching above their weight – Iceland and Burnley. He finished the Premier League season with eight assists, thanks to excellent delivery from a disciplined wide role. He faces a busy summer – the first round of the Europa League starts in July.

The verdict

Iceland more than exceeded expectations at Euro 2016 so it would be unfair to write them off before the tournament. However, they do look like the weakest relation in a very competitive group. It would be a surprise if they reached the last 16.

The squad

Goalkeepers: Hannes Halldorsson (Randers), Runar Runarsson (Nordsjaelland), Frederik Schram (Roskilde).

Defenders: Kari Arnason (Aberdeen), Holmar Eyjolfsson (Levski Sofia), Rurik Gislason (Sandhausen), Sverrir Ingason (Rostov), Hordur Magnusson (Bristol City), Birkir Saevarsson (Valur), Ragnar Sigurdsson (Rostov), Ari Skulason (Lokeren).

Midfielders: Birkir Bjarnason (Aston Villa), Samuel Fridjonsson (Valerenga), Johann Gudmundsson (Burnley), Aron Gunnarsson (Cardiff City), Emil Hallfredsson (Udinese), Gylfi Sigurdsson (Everton), Olafur Skulason (Karabukspor), Arnor Traustason (Malmo).

Forwards: Jon Bodvarsson (Reading), Alfred Finnbogason (Augsburg), Albert Gudmundsson (PSV), Bjorn Sigurdarson (Rostov).

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