Can Iceland be to Euro 2016, what Belgium were to the 2014 World Cup?

In their major tournament debut, Iceland will be aiming to raise a few eyebrows and gain a few neutral supporters, but can the underdogs reach the heights that Belgium did only two years ago in Brazil?

Can Iceland be to Euro 2016, what Belgium were to the 2014 World Cup?
Photo credit: Getty images

Underdog (noun) - "a competitor thought to have little chance of winning a fight or contest".

After qualifying for the first major tournament in their 95 year history, Iceland are most certaintly most suitable candidates for the title of this year's European underdogs.

However, the smallest, north-most country travelling to France this Summer could provide a shock, just as Leicester did less than a month ago, and just as this year's contender's - Belgium did two years ago in Brazil.

​Promising qualifying campaign for the Nords

​23rd February, 2014, and Lars Lagerbäck, Heimir Hallgrímsson and their Icelandic hopefuls recieve the news that they will face the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Turkey, Latvia and Kazakhstan in the qualifying stages of the European Championships.

It was by no means an easy group, especially considering that the Strákarnir okkar had never had the chance to play on the biggest stages of them all in their history.

Three consecutive victories in which the Icelandic faithful saw an impressive seven goals scored, and none conceded by their team came against Turkey (who finished third in the 2008 competition), Latvia ​and the Netherlands (1988 champions and three time third placed Euro competitors).

For such a small country, Iceland produced big celebrations in qualifying | Credit: Getty
For such a small country, Iceland produced big celebrations in qualifying | Credit: Getty

The fine run of form saw the unlikely heroes sit at the top of group A, above favourites, the Czech Republic and depleted Holland. However, successive losses to the formidable Czechs and Kazakhstan saw heads drop - as it looked to be yet another dull year of football.

The Czech Republic and the Netherlands suffered at the hands of Iceland in following fixtures, meaning only a draw was needed against Kazakhstan - who got the better of the nords in the reverse fixture - to send them to France.

0-0. The final whistle blew and jubilation was felt in Reykyavik, and throughout the remainder of Iceland's minute population. Two games remained, and they were through - ending up two points behind the Czech Republic, and two points above Turkey in third.

​Can Belgium's success story be repeated?

​Undoubtably, it will be tough. It was a known fact that Belgium had a stately squad; with the likes of Lukaku, Hazard, Courtois and Kompany making a name for themselves in the Premier League and leading the red devils forward, it was known beforehand that they were a team to be reckoned with.

Icelandic midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson has followed in the same steps, showing his worth at Swansea City for the past two seasons. Since moving to England to play for Tottenham in 2012, the 26 year-old has gained an abundance of admirers, including his national squad coach, who has rewarded him with 31 caps.

Since playing under Lagerbäck, Sigurdsson has seen his national Iceland rise from 133rd in FIFA World rankings, to 33rd; the 100 rank difference just shows the sheer determination the Strákarnir okkar have - and it is this that will be the key to their success, if any.

It is true that the debutants don't possess players of the same calibre as Belgium did two years ago, but it is this personified desire that will break through the icey appearance, as the Icelandic players will want to impress in their first major tournament.

How far will they go?

Realistically, it is unlikely that Iceland will achieve the same level of success that Wilmots guided his Belgium side to in Brazil, and perhaps this year. They do not have the talented players of France or Spain to succeed in such a competative cometition.

​With a population the size of an average suburb in Mumbai - 3,30,000 - it is unlikely that Iceland will bring an abundance of supporters. However, it is the admirable success story and rise of an island nation that will win the hearts of neutrals.

The fans will be sure to make a noise, whether they are Icelandic or not | Credit: Getty
The fans will be sure to make a noise, whether they are Icelandic or not | Credit: IndiaNews

In 2000 a state of the art indoor football facility was opened to allow the younger generations to train away from the harsh conditions typical of the country. The access to underfloor heated pitches from volcanic sources has lead to a generation of disciplined and well-trained players.

With it being the only time in their history that Iceland have qualified for a tournament of such stature, they will undoubtably want to do well. The group could be worse, with Austria and Portugal proving to be most lethal to their hopes and ambitions - but the typical nordic spirit is sure to kick in and put up a fight.