It had been a long time in the making, but at last, Iceland have qualified for a major international tournament. Euro 2016 will be Iceland’s first major tournament in the country’s history, and after 23 failed attempts to make it onto the world stage, everybody’s favourite Nordic country will be aiming to cause an upset in this summers tournament.
The rise of Iceland has been one of the greatest stories for some years. From a tiny island nation that merely served as a pit stop for bigger countries, to almost qualifying for a World Cup and shocking the footballing world with a qualifying run that nobody predicted in 2014, there’s a reason why football fans around the world have a soft spot for the island Nordic nation.
The route to France
Placed into Group A of the qualifying phase for Euro 2016, Iceland had a mountain, or volcano to keep the Icelandic theme going, to climb. Iceland had been drawn into a terrifying group, with the likes of the Netherlands, Turkey and the Czech Republic, all set to lock horns for the three qualifying spots.
KSI had no right to finish second in the group, but they sure as heck deserved too. The Nordic country demolished Turkey 3-0 at the Laugardalsvöllur stadium in the opening match of the qualifying round, and Iceland kept the moment going with two more wins against Latvia, and Holland.
Three games, three wins, what could possibly go wrong? A 2-1 defeat against the Czech Republic in Prague should had sent Iceland tumbling back to reality, but Lars Lagerbäck and Heimir Hallgrímsson’s side remained in dreamland, winning the next three games Kazakhstan, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands once again.
Two draws and a defeat in their final three games meant nothing to Iceland, they were going to the Euros.
The odd couple
Unlike most international teams, Iceland are jointly managed by the aforementioned Lagerbäck and Hallgrímsson’s. Lagerbäck, a former player for the now disbanded Gimonäs CK, has a very impressive CV for someone fairly unknown in the world of football.
Lagerbäck managed his native Sweden for an impressive nine years, taking the Blågult to four consecutive international competitions, before resigning in 2010 after failing to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Hallgrímsson on the other hand has a more interesting story to tell. Born and raised in Vestmannaeyjar, Hallgrímsson managed IBV’s women side for multiple years in the early 2000’s, taking the side to the top of Icelandic Women’s Premier League.
After flirting with both the men’s and women’s teams of IBV, Hallgrímsson was appointed the assistant manager of the Iceland manager team in 2011, and two years later, the then 46-year-old was made co-manager with Lagerbäck.
A Nordic style of play
Iceland’s rise from a pit stop for European countries to an underrated force in the continent has been something in the making for a number of years. The golden generation of Icelandic players have reached their peak, and the maturity of the players along with the tactics implemented by the co-managers, has allowed KSI to flourish in recent months.
Iceland tend to play with a 4-4-2 formation, with an emphasis on counter-attacking football. Their main source of danger is Swansea playmaker Gylfi Sigurdsson, who alongside Udinese midfielder Emil Hallfredsson, the Icelandic duo make a very stable midfield for KSI.
One of the most notable names in the squad is former Chelsea and Barcelona striker Eidur Gudjohnsen, who at 39-years-ol is still going strong as the spearhead of the Icelandic attack.
Iceland are a nation that everybody loves, and with a squad with the perfect mix of young and old, precise and unpredictable, and add that with two managers who know the game so well, don’t be too surprised if the boys from Iceland make a headline or two in France.
Portugal – Iceland | 14th June 20:00
Iceland – Hungary | 18th June 17:00
Iceland – Austria | 22nd June 17:00
Goalkeepers: Hannes Halldorsson (Bodo/Glimt), Ogmundur Kristinsson (Hammarby), Ingvar Jonsson (Sandefjord).
Defenders: Ari Skulason (OB), Hordur Magnusson (Juventus), Hjortur Hermannsson (PSV Eindhoven), Ragnar Sigurdsson (Krasnodar), Kari Arnason (Malmo), Sverrir Ingi Ingason (Lokeren), Birkir Saevarsson (Hammarby), Haukur Heidar Hauksson (AIK)
Midfielders: Emil Hallfredsson (Udinese), Gylfi Sigurdsson (Swansea), Aron Gunnarsson (Cardiff), Theodor Elmar Bjarnason (AGF), Arnor Ingvi Traustason (Norrkoping), Birkir Bjarnason (Basel), Johann Gudmundsson (Charlton), Runar Mar Sigurjonsson (Sundsvall)
Forwards: Kolbeinn Sigthorsson (Nantes), Alfred Finnbogason (Augsburg), Jon Dadi Bodvarsson (Kaiserslautern), Eidur Gudjohnsen (Molde)