A 2-0 victory against Kosovo in Reykyavik which saw Iceland finish the 2018 World Cup qualifying top of their group was a definite confirmation of this tiny nation’s continued football success.
Until recently considered Europe’s outsiders, Iceland national team is heading to Russia to put fear of God into their rivals with a spine-tingling Viking clap. And we could not be happier for them.
It’s somewhat symbolic to see Iceland pip Croatia to the first place in 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying Group I.
Icelandic football team has not enjoyed notable success until the 21st century and it was exactly in the previous World Cup qualifiers – for the 2014 edition in Brazil – that the football world first took notice of Vikings.
The total of 17 points from 10 qualifying matches saw them finish second behind Switzerland and earn a place in the play-offs as the final step ahead of the big event in South Americas.
A goalless draw in Reykyavik in front of less than ten thousand people offered a hope the impossible can be achieved against Croatia, a country which was once third in the world and a country which boasts a rich football history.
Mandzukic and Srna crushed Iceland’s dreams at Stadion Maksimir in Zagreb as this Nordic country was sent home to contemplate its football faith.
Hope and belief was all Iceland have been left with after years of continued work with Swedish tactician Lars Lagerback who – first on his own and then with Heimir Hallgrimsson – did his best to pass on the knowledge and expertise, while also attempting to imprint a football style and approach not as robust and raw.
Backed by an entire country – as small as it is – and systematic changes which saw Iceland open a number of football schools and put up a great number of indoor football facilities, head coach Lagerback laid foundations for a European dream which first started with a second place in a Euro 2016 qualifying group behind Czech Republic which saw Iceland grab their first-ever participation at a major international tournament.
The history was beginning to be written as Vikings boarded their fighting ships and sailed to France where they beat the odds to progress to the Round of 16 hand-in-hand with Hungary and champions-to-be Portugal, leaving a side like Austria in tears after the group stage.
Brave and fearsome in their approach and appearance, Iceland wiped the football world off of their feet with a 2-1 victory over England which send them straight into the quarterfinals.
English struggles at the international level are well-documented, but they should not demise the magnitude of a feat achieved at Allianz Arena in Nice thanks to goals from Ragnar Sigurdsson and Kolbeinn Sigporsson.
Iceland’s European dream was ended by rampant France who went on to win 5-2 in the quarter-finals, but the world was left in awe of a relentless spirit from a fighters’ nation such as Iceland.
The Vikings – together with their famous clap – turned themselves into an overnight sensation, but not everyone was convinced the success will last.
History in the Making
Less than 18 months after sensationally ending England’s Euro 2016 dreams, Iceland pulled a coup not many people believed was possible.
Having gained a continent-wide recognition thanks to their long hairs and beards, that completed their frightening look, colourful fans who graced us with a Viking clapping trend, Iceland will now take it all to a higher level with their Russia qualification.
Seven wins in 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers left Iceland ahead of Croatia – cue the symbolism – Ukraine and Turkey with Heimir Hallgrimsson’s men getting their names in the history books once again.
Iceland have now reached their first-ever World Cup, while they have also become the smallest nation to do so. With a population close to 335,000 people, Iceland are the only country to have qualified for the showpiece in tournament below the 1 million people mark.
Self-proclaimed workaholics, charismatic Icelanders have proved their success is no flash in the pan and attested that sustained work is the most important ingredient in achieving excellence.
You also need mental strength, determination and hard work which – as Iceland confirmed – will pay off eventually.
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