After Kolbeinn Sigthorsson scored the goal to sensationally dump England out of Euro 2016 in Nice earlier this week, it was tempting to wonder whether the Iceland striker could imagine ever having so much fun on a French football pitch.
Sigthorsson hopes to inspire Iceland’s biggest upset to date when they face the hosts at Stade de France in Sunday’s quarter-final, bolstered by 21 goals from 43 caps – just five behind Eidur Gudjohnsen’s all-time scoring record for the tiny nation of 323,000 people that has captured the hearts of sports fans worldwide during this tournament.
France coach Didier Deschamps believes Sigthorsson’s partnership in attack with Jon Dadi Bodvarsson poses a significant danger to Les Bleus’ aspirations of European glory.
“They have got two powerful forwards with a lot of presence in the box,” he said. “They do put pressure on there. There are physical challenges.”
These are halcyon days for Sigthorsson and his team-mates in the country where the 26-year-old’s once promising career appeared to hurtle down a dead end this year.
A prodigious youngster, he progressed through the Under-19 and Under-21 sides to reach the first team at Dutch club AZ Alkmaar, announcing himself with 15 Eredivisie goals in a breakthrough 2010-11 campaign.
Ajax soon came calling but, despite scoring seven goals across eight league starts and six substitute appearances the following season, a broken ankle sidelined him for five months and brought words of warning where concern and support might have been expected.
“I already had my doubts as to whether Kolbeinn could physically cope with the demands of playing for Ajax,” said his old AZ boss Gertjan Verbeek. “He already had some difficulties with the amount of games we were playing at AZ, even though he only was a starter for the second half of the season.
“He is the sort of player who uses his physical strength a lot. He is not the most elegant player. He puts a lot of energy into his game. I had to substitute him regularly. He often battled minor injuries. That was all the result of doing too much.”
He opened 2012-13 with an equaliser in a 2-2 draw at AZ but would not play again until February due to a shoulder injury, Verbeek’s words seeming grimly prophetic.
Sigthorsson’s record of 35 goals across four largely interrupted seasons for Ajax stacked up well enough and meant Ligue 1 outfit Nantes had high hopes when they secured his services last July.
But the Reykjavik native’s jaunt to the west of France soon turned sour – the winner in a 2-1 November win over Nice standing as his only goal before the turn of the year.
“We’re a little disappointed with what’s happened with Kolbeinn,” said Nantes chairman Waldemar Kita, before echoing familiar criticisms.
“We’re doing everything possible to put him on the field in a perfect shape. He’s a real footballer but I’m not sure we have the know-how to accommodate this type of player.
“It’s a mistake on my part and on our part. However, the player must also put more into the cause.”
Sigthorsson was defiant, leaning on the old adage of a “new year and a new start” and scored two in three appearances at the start of January.
That was the limit of his resurgence, however, as he ended the campaign stuck on three Ligue 1 goals and was absent from the final five squads of the season before coach Michel Der Zakarian departed.
Goals in friendly wins over Greece and Liechtenstein this year showed Sigthorsson remained a focal point at international level as he slipped into the shadows for this club.
“Kolbeinn has been fantastic for us, not just in the finals – over the past three or four years he has done amazing things,” said Iceland coach Heimir Hallgrimsson on the eve of the France clash.
“We are playing to his strengths. That is the key. We are playing a style that suits him.”
If Sigthorsson can help to extend Iceland’s improbable run in Saint-Denis, he will relish dishing out footballing misery in France as opposed to being on the receiving end.
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