“It’s been a David vs Goliath battle all along”, a country with a total population of 332,529 began their qualifying phase for the UEFA Euro 2016. With the likes of the Netherlands, Czech Republic, Turkey present in their group the route was always going to be tough. But the team spirit that has been spoken so highly of during the course of the tournament was evident right from the early stages of the qualifying tournament. In what was a tough group Iceland matched up really well against the so called “big boys” of the group. Comprehensive wins against the likes of Turkey, Latvia and the Dutch set them up really well for qualifying for their first major tournament ,eventually finishing an impressive second in their group thus automatically qualifying for their first ever European Championship tournament. This was not to mention a big boost to a small nation which had narrowly just a couple of years ago missed out on qualifying for the FIFA World Cup to Croatia. Iceland more than held their own in a tough group which was evident by the fact that it was Iceland’s Gylfi Syggurdson who finished as the top scorer, showing the progress and the quality that was now accompanying the team from Iceland.
The Euros draw for the Icelandic squad was a tricky one. Put in the same group as Hungary, Austria and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, predicting the three qualifiers was always going to be tough. Iceland in their first game against the Portuguese matched the reds from Portugal at every step in the match. The match turned out to be historic in the case that Bjarnason scored Iceland’s first goal in a major tournament which also helped them secure their first point in a major tournament after the game had ended 1-1. The point against Portugal was followed by a strong performance against the Hungarians but much to the disappointment of the tiny nation, the match once again ended in a draw meaning that Iceland would now face a must win clash against Austria in their final game. That game would turn out to be another historic moment for the small nation as the Vikings would go on to achieve their first win in a major competition right in the dying minutes of the game. The victory sent the fans across the country and a large chunk of neutrals into ecstasy seeing the smallest nation to ever participate in the history of the competition through to the knockout phase.
The draw for the knockouts brought about a lot of excitement amongst the fans as first timers Iceland were drawn against the hotshots England, who with all their Premier League experience were firm favourites to go past the minnows. It was a “David v Goliath” in all terms. The history, power, financial power of the Associations and more importantly the player power. The Barclays Premier League is the most popular and the most watched league in the entire world with a lot of top players applying their trade. But the league has certainly not bonded well with the English national squad as the stars of the league have occasionally failed to turn up at the important moments for the national side at major tournaments. The emotions before the game were contrasting before the match, the English fans were unsurprisingly nervous while the Icelandic supporters were pretty happy and in a buoyant mood given their achievements over the small period of time. The England side started off stronger and went on to sore early through captain Wayne Rooney through a penalty. But as we’ve talked about throughout this article, Iceland once again proved their metal and within a minute came back to equalize in the match. The goal as it had done throughout made the Iceland team go from strength to strength.
The shoulders of the English players dropped as the game went on, the Vikings were now better than their stronger and starry counterparts. It wasn’t long before Iceland scored their second of the game and went to register what was a comprehensive win over one off the nation that created the sport. The win was applauded right across the footballing world as numerous pundits and neutrals in a lot of ways felt proud of the Icelandic display which had defied pretty much all odds to reach the last eight of the tournament. The quarter final game against hosts France was another historic game for the Vikings ,who by now had been crating history at almost every stage of their tournament. The game turned out to be a one-sided affair with the French dominating the Icelandic squad. A 5-2 defeat certainly looked bad on paper but the efforts of the Iceland players clearly can’t be categorized in the same frame of words.
Iceland did lose but won a lot of hearts worldwide and looking at the performances, quality and the work ethic of the squad one gets the feeling that there could be some more big performances coming up come the next World Cup in Russia.
Pic Credit: Wiki