The Euro Cup.
Europe’s showcase of the top talent spread throughout the continent. The best of the best, Spain, Germany, England, Italy, Portugal, France, Belgium…Iceland?
You read that correctly. For the first time in their nation’s footballing history, Iceland has qualified for one of the biggest national tournaments in sports. They also didn’t scrape across the finish line to earn their way in either.
In qualifying for their first World or Euro Cup ever, they did so with a quality and skill few could forecast nor expect possible from such a mix match group of footballers. Iceland was 6-2-2, that is six victories and two earned draws with only a pair of losses in the final qualification round. Throw in they clean sheeted the Dutch both at home three to nothing and on the road with a one goal stunner, and you got yourself a fine case of the Cinderellas.
It starts from the top with this rag tag group of misfits and the odd top tier talent. Gylfi Sigurdsson, the young attacking midfielder for English Premiership side Swansea City has a clear sense for goal. He is far and away the number one scoring option for the Icelanders. His stunning breakout of scoring in the qualification stage had him lead Group A with six goals in ten matches, and he should be relied upon heavily for offence in the Euro. Also you can look to 27 year old Aron Gunnarsson for some quality offensive playmaking as well as solid defense. The Cardiff City man has the ability to be an effective box-to-box midfielder, he will also be relied upon by Iceland for his two-way style of game in order to stand any chance against the top opponents. One last player to keep an eye on is midfielder Johann Berg Gudmundsson, he also is playing in England like Sigurdsson and Gunnarsson with Charlton Athletic. He had a terrific qualification without even finding the back of the net, but with five goals in international play and a hat-trick in a world cup qualifier, Iceland knows he can at will.
Then things get real funky, and when I say funky, boy I mean it. In a recent interview with British newspaper the daily telegraph head coach Heimir Hallgrimsson admitted he is not only leading the national team, but he doubles as a dentist part-time in his hometown of Heimaey, Iceland. Yes, their head coach who has masterminded the greatest undertaking in Icelandic football history, also will simultaneously call you out for your cavities and lack of dental hygiene. If that doesn’t get ya thinking this is not your usual national team, their starting goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson is not only their main man between the posts at age 32, he’s a contest winning filmmaker in Iceland! So if this run Iceland are currently on continues, Halldorsson may wanna claim rights to a possible documentary.
They may not be your average national team mix of stars and professional full-time footballers who are in a class of their own. They more resemble from paper a team of lower league talent mixed with a few professionals in here and there. So how possibly could they brush off the Netherlands twice, defeat a solid Turkish side also by a final of three to nil and all from a country with a population of 330,000 roughly? Hallgrimsson has stated multiple times in the press it is simpler than stats, charts and opinion, it is simply hard work.
Iceland will certainly have to outwork its opponents in France this June in order to have any chance of repeating the success of their qualification rounds. Their task starts with a match against Portugal on Tuesday, June 14th and trying to stop or rather slow down Cristiano Ronaldo. They may not have much in terms of talent, or history, but they do realize they will have at least 330,000 Icelanders cheering them on every step of the way.