Following a friendly loss earlier in the year we spoke to Iceland coach Freyr Alexandersson about how the team bounced back from a disappointing Euros and their focus in World Cup qualification.
A dream run to the Euros in the Netherlands turned to nightmare as more and more senior players picked up knocks, the team considerably weakened as they fell to three straight defeats at the summer tournament.
A bruising loss to Switzerland in Deventer was enough to see Stelpurnar Okkar guaranteed an early flight home as Austria held France to a draw later the same day.
Upon returning to Iceland, the team were met with nothing but warmth from the home fans, the Icelandic people having turned out in numbers to wish the team well, seeing them off at Keflavik airport before the tournament.
“They were good and supportive, but we were disappointed and when we came back, and as we did at the start of the qualification we got a lot of good wishes and we can feel that the whole nation is behind us. But it’s just Iceland, we have a lot of expectations, sometimes it’s unrealistic but it helps us in what we do.”
Over before it began for Iceland the team fast refocused, no time to dwell as they prepared for World Cup qualification, draw into a group with perpetual winners Germany, the Nordic nation were fast written off.
A healthy win in Reykjavík over primary qualifiers, Faroe Island saw Iceland off to a strong start, their second match of the qualification stages a trip to Wiesbaden enough to test most European nations.
The three points they left Germany with, a shock to most.
“They bounced back really well, and I am really proud of the team with how they bounced back. We had qualification games short after the Euros, first against the Faroe Islands at home then we put in very good performances against Germany and the Czech Republic.
"As you know we got some decent results there and the performances and attitude amongst the players was first class so I’m very proud of the players.”
In contrast to their Euros, things were back rolling in Iceland’s favour ahead of the qualifiers in October, the team finding their best against the two-time World Cup champions.
“Maybe we didn’t expect it but we believed in it, definitely believed in it and prepared ourselves very well for those games and we put on a good performance and also the players were peaking at that time.
"To have Dagný Brynjarsdóttir coming back from a long, long injury and putting in a performance at the highest standard, Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir… all of our key players peaking at the right time, they weren’t at the best at the Euros because of various situations with them but coming back at the beginning of September and putting on that performance was great.”
Easy come, easy go
The win sent ripples through the women’s football community, the group suddenly in Iceland’s hands, Germany potentially staring down their first ever failed qualification bid for a World Cup. The standings in the group disrupted, but a loss to the Czech Republic four days later reopened the group up.
“It’s wasn’t like a wake-up call, we know where our weaknesses lie, and we were playing Germany and a short time between the games and we need to recover better and we need to be more athletic in a way.
"We were playing a good team, Czech Republic on their home soil it was a physical game, I’ve never seen as a physical game in my whole life – we are a physical but they are also so it was something I expected but we didn’t do well enough but a draw was a fair result.”
On paper, a blow for Iceland, but not for Alexandersson who had seen his team do exactly what was asked of them, the job ahead of his team the same as ever.
“Before we came to those games I said to the players, if we go home with four points I’m satisfied it doesn’t matter if it comes Germany three and one from second match.
"The German team will always be favourites in this group and even after our game, Germany are still the favourites and they will be all game and the chance is still in our hands, we have home games in September against the Czechs and Germany and before that we have important qualifying games too.”
With a long year of qualification games at every turn, the coach isn’t too focused on Germany yet, not taking any result for granted, the first job is beating the teams in front of them before welcoming Germany to Reykjavík.
“We know about them and we know about what kind of situation we can put ourselves in. But to be honest we need to focus on those games in April, going away against Slovenia can be a tough task and travelling to the Faroe Islands, of course, we should beat them but we need to be focused.
"So, we’ll be focused and our destiny is in our own hands in September – Germany will always be favourites in the game but with 10,000 fans in the stands supporting us we can put on a good performance again.”
Having lost a number of high profile players in recent times, the average age of the squad has drastically dropped and Alexandersson’s main focus is getting the younger players well bed in the team, preparing the side for the rigors of the year.
“We know about the game but we’re focusing on the present and now, as you can see, we have a very very young squad as we have lost a lot of players to injuries and other things so now we need to develop the squad.
"That will take some time and the friendlies we have, we’re not looking into results, we could lose all of those, it’s good nations we’re playing against, we will probably pull out one or two victories but still it’s all about performance, developing those players because they could be those who take the heat when we play the qualification games.”
The process, one that will take time.
“At this point that’s the main focus, we will put all our effort into developing the players and team-cohesion and getting better day by day.”