Iceland coach Heimir Hallgrimsson says the country will suddenly expect to win the World Cup if they are somehow able to progress to the round of 16.
Hallgrimsson’s side, making their first appearance at the tournament, must defeat Croatia, who are already through and all but certain to secure top spot in Group D, and hope Argentina beat Nigeria by a narrow margin to preserve the small advantage in goal difference they hold over La Albiceleste.
Questioned during a news conference at Rostov Arena about the seemingly boundless optimism of the tiny Nordic nation, Hallgrimsson said: “Well I think it’s in the genes.
“If it’s Eurovision, we always think we’re going to win it. It’s the same here, even if we lose, we think we’re going to win the next one.”
Asked what the reaction will be back home if the team does progress, he said: “Icelanders will think we are going to be World Cup champions, because they are so optimistic.
“For nations like Argentina, Portugal, Germany it would be, not a disgrace, but a shock not to qualify for the final 16. If we manage to qualify, it would be the biggest success in Iceland’s short football history.”
— Knattspyrnusambandið (@footballiceland) June 24, 2018
Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic has already confirmed he will rest six first-choice players at risk of incurring a suspension if they were to receive a second yellow card, including Ivan Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic.
Rather than welcome the absence of key personnel, Hallgrimsson expects to face an influx of highly motivated opponents.
“I think it’s a little bit of a disadvantage for us,” he said.
“Strange to say it. But I think the players who have played the first two gamers could be demotivated, because they could be worried about getting injured or being suspended. But they have players [coming in who are now] playing at the higher level, for Inter Milan and Real Madrid [a reference to Marcelo Brozovic and Mateo Kovacic].
“Because there’s no rubbish players. There’s motivated players who want to punch their way in [to the team] to play the round of 16, quarter-finals, semi-finals. It doesn’t matter if they change one player or 10, it’s still going to be a really good Croatian team.”
Iceland captain Aron Gunnarsson, meanwhile, claimed the team is not using the possibility of eliminating Lionel Messi and Argentina as a motivating factor.
“We’re going to try it,” he said.
“Of course we have great faith in the project and in ourselves. We’ve prepared very well for the game. Everyone has done their job, now the players have to stand up and do everything they can. But it doesn’t matter, if we get out the group, who gets left behind.”
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