Iceland are heading into unknown waters. It’s the first time they have qualified for a major tournament, their stout defence leading the way with just six goals leaked in 10 matches as they did the double over the Dutch to seal their spot in the finals with two games to spare. So what’s next?
Lesson from qualifying
Don’t take your foot off the gas. Iceland blew a two-goal half-time lead in their post-qualification game against Latvia to draw 2-2, before losing in Turkey in the final group game. They can’t afford to relax now.
A well-organised defence kept six clean sheets in qualification, including twice against the Dutch. The team is a very tight unit.
They lack strength in depth. Injuries to key players such as Gylfi Sigurdsson or Johann Gudmundsson could derail them.
Most likely to…
Turn their success into a movie. Goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson has been promised a directing job in Iceland when he retires.
Least likely to…
Let defender and heavy rock fan Birkir Saevarsson choose the pre-match music.
What they hope will happen
Pick up points against Austria and Hungary, qualify as runners-up, then see how they fare against Russia or Wales – both beatable – in the last 16.
What will happen
They’ll qualify finishing third, before bowing out gracefully to Germany or Spain.
Key player - Aron Gunnarsson
Gylfi Sigurdsson brings the glamour, Kolbeinn Sigthorsson the goals, but Iceland need to keep it tight at the back, and midfield cover will come from Aron Gunnarsson. The indefatigable Cardiff City man has also skippered his nation for four years.
Managers - Lars Lagerback & Heimir Hallgrimsson
The Swedish Lagerback is so popular in Iceland, he’s been touted as a future president. Hallgrimsson is being groomed to take over after the Euros, although it’s hoped Lagerback will agree to stay on for another two years.
Q&A - Gylfi Sigurdsson
You’ve qualified for a tournament for the first time in Iceland’s history. Are you national heroes?
It is an amazing achievement. There’s a lot of interest in Iceland. Young kids watch football and we are some kind of idols for them.
Has the country’s attitude to football changed because of this?
Yes, massively. When I first came into the national team we won one in every seven games, probably, and there was hardly anyone in the stadium. Now games are sold out within 20 or 30 minutes. In the last six years it has changed massively thanks to the coaches, better players – and winning! It’s simple: when you’re winning, people watch.
Why does this team have such a strong mentality?
When I was training in Iceland, we spent six or seven months outside in the snow. Growing up in such conditions makes you mentally strong and determined to make it as a professional and go all the way.
Can Iceland improve further?
We’ve improved a lot over the past three or four years but yes, I think we can become a lot better going forward. Our defence is pretty solid, though – we haven’t conceded many goals.
Fixtures and results
June 15, Portugal - Saint-Etienne, 3am
June 18, Hungary - Marseille, Midnight
June 22, Austria - Saint-Denis, Midnight
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
Group A runners-up
vs Turkey (H) 3-0
vs Latvia (A) 3-0
vs Netherlands (H) 2-0
vs Czech Rep (A) 1-2
vs Kazakhstan (H) 3-0
vs Czech Rep (H) 2-1
vs Netherlands (A) 1-0
vs Kazakhstan (H) 0-0
vs Latvia (H) 2-2
vs Turkey (A) 0-1
EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP RECORD
Words Johann Sigurdsson; Interview Lukas Vrablik
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