As an English football fan, the word ‘Iceland’ strikes fear into my soul. Last summer the tiny Nordic nation pulled off one of the biggest shocks in the history of the European Championships by beating England 2-1 in the last 16 of Euro 2016.
Iceland’s Euro 2016 journey ended in the quarter-finals with a defeat by hosts France. However, their performances at the tournament were immense and created many good memories. They deserved major credit for the displays produced in France.
It seems Iceland are not done yet on the big stage. On Monday night, Heimir Halgrimsson’s side defeated Kosovo 2-0 in Reykjavik to seal automatic qualification for next year’s World Cup.
Smallest nation ever to reach the World Cup
Iceland will be the smallest ever nation to play in a World Cup at Russia 2018. The fact that the country’s population is approximately 350,000 and they have qualified for the biggest competition in world football is quite astounding.
To put it into perspective the previous smallest country to play in a World Cup was Trinidad and Tobago, whose population is around 1.3million. Trinidad failed to make an impact in the 2006 edition, but Iceland cannot be written off so easily.
The reasons behind Iceland’s turnaround
In truth, Iceland do not have the best individuals, with arguably Everton attacking midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson the only player regarded as a star name in the squad. However, the minnows like any underdogs are a proper team.
A mixture of good coaching, teamwork and experience has seen the Nordic country make it through to the World Cup from a group that contained Croatia, a team with a number of hugely technically gifted and highly-rated players.
The Iceland head coach Halgrimsson deserves high praise for carrying on the work of former boss Lars Lagerback, who alongside Halgrimsson had transformed Iceland’s fortunes. Halgrimsson is only a part-time boss, as he is also a dentist.
This is the stuff of fiction, a tiny nation with a head coach who is a part-time dentist making it to the World Cup, it really is fairytale stuff. However, the fairytale is built on very real hard work and effort from everybody connected with the national side.
Icelandic football has undergone a revolution in the last decade, with indoor pitches and better facilities popping up all over the country. The revolution and outside of the box (or inside the sports hall) thinking has helped the national team achieve far better results.
The reward for all the behind the scenes work will be a first-ever appearance at the World Cup for their country. No doubt, it will be a very proud moment for Icelandic citizens to see their team play on such a big stage.
Can they shock the football world once again?
The victory over England sent shockwaves around the football world. Admittedly, the Three Lions were woeful in the game, but that should not take anything away from the victory.
It was vital for the sake of their national team that the good performances continued into the qualification campaign and they did, as they won seven of their ten qualifiers.
Understandably, Iceland are major outsiders at odds of 200/1 to win next year’s World Cup. I doubt even the most hard-core Iceland fan believes their team could win the trophy.
However, as they did at Euro 2016 they will set out to make it out of the group and see where that takes them. Who they are drawn alongside in the group stages is likely to have a major bearing on whether they make it to the knockout stages or not.
I know a certain major European football nation will be looking to avoid Sigurdsson and co. this time around, though. No matter what happens in Russia next summer, Iceland has done amazing things on a football field in the last few years.
I like many neutrals, will be cheering them on at Russia 2018. I hope that the Nordic nation once again punches above their weight and gives another good account of themselves at the World Cup, as everybody connected with the team deserves any success that comes their way.
How will Iceland fare at World Cup 2018?
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