World Cup Preview – Iceland
Best WC Performance – TOURNAMENT DEBUT
Current World Ranking – 22
Iceland are currently in the midst of their golden generation. As recently as June 2012 they were ranked as 131st in the FIFA World Rankings. Earlier this year they reached an all-time high of 18th. In fifty years’ time it will likely be the current squad whose names are mentioned as the greatest in the history of Icelandic football.
Previously, worldwide knowledge of Icelandic football heritage essentially began and ended with Eiður Guðjohnsen. The former Chelsea and Barcelona architect became, and according to online polls remains, the second most famous individual ever to hail from the island nation. Personally, given the choice, I’d rather sit through 90 minutes of watching Eiður than listening to Bjork! also Guðjohnsen holds the unusual honour of being the only international ever to replace his father as substitute, which is nice.
Before 2014 Iceland had won just 16 total World Cup qualifying fixtures over the course of 10 unsuccessful campaigns. In the same span they lost 53. The men from Laugardalsvöllur are currently carving out the most successful period in their nation’s history.
GOALKEEPERS: Hannes Thor Halldorsson (Randers FC), Runar Alex Runarsson (Nordsjaelland), Frederik Schram (Roskilde)
DEFENDERS: Birkir Mar Saevarsson (Valur), Ragnar Sigurdsson (Rostov), Kari Arnason (Aberdeen), Ari Freyr Skulason (Lokeren), Sverrir Ingi Ingason (Rostov), Hordur Bjorgvin Magnusson (Bristol City), Samuel Kari Fridridsson (Valerenga), Holmar Orn Eyjolfsson (Levski Sofia)
MIDFIELDERS: Aaron Einar Gunnarsson (Cardiff), Gylfi Sigurdsson (Everton), Emil Hallfredsson (Udinese), Birkir Bjarnason (Aston Villa), Johann Berg Gudmundsson (Burnley), Olafur Ingi Skulason (Karabukspor), Arnor Ingvi Traustason (Malmo), Rurik Gislason (Sandhausen)
FORWARDS: Alfred Finnbogason (Augsburg), Jon Dadi Bodvarsson (Reading), Bjorn Bergmann Sigurdarson (Rostov), Albert Gudmundsson (PSV Eindhoven
- Vs Argentina 14:00, 16.06.18 Otkrytie Arena, Moscow
- Vs Nigeria 16:00, 22.06.18 Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Nizhny Novgorod
- Vs Croatia 19:00, 26.06.18 Rostov Arena, Rostov-on-Don
Manager – Heimir Hallgrimsson
Heimir Hallgrímsson is the manager of Iceland… *Googles Heimir Hallgrimsson*
Hallgrímsson’s path to international management (according to the internet) perfectly sums up the underdog story of his side. He began his management career in the 90s, taking the helm of the women’s team in his local town, whilst making his living as a dentist. Quite brilliantly, he remained in the tooth trade part-time until after Euro 2016, despite having being joint manager of his nation for three years. Now would be a suitable time to reflect that England lost to Iceland at Euro 2016.
Iceland are certainly coached by one of their own. His football career, playing and managerial, have never taken him abroad. He is barely known outside of his homeland but he currently boasts a 63%-win ratio in over 50 games in sole or joint charge. Heimir Hallgrímsson doesn’t even have a picture on his Wikipedia page. What some English players and managers would give for such anonymity come the pressures of World Cup year.
Iceland go in to Group D with a psychological edge over one of their rivals, having beaten Croatia to top spot in their qualification group. The tone was set in their second fixture, where they trailed at home to Finland going in to stoppage time before channelling Dzeko and Aguero with a 92nd minute leveller and 96th minute winner.
Home form proved to be the key for Iceland as they earned a perfect 15 points from five games in fortress Reykjavik. The achievement of winning a group containing not just Croatia but also established nations in Ukraine, Turkey and Finland should not be underestimated. Following on from their Euro 2016 heroics, Iceland proved during qualification that they are a genuine international force. They will be looking forward to proving more doubters wrong this summer.
Captain – Aron Gunnarsson
Aron Gunnarsson has had a very decent career in the English football leagues and has won over supporters with his work rate and bravery. It is, though, unlikely that even he could have dreamed he would one day lead his team to a World Cup. After captaining his team to the Quarter Finals of the European Championship, this achievement may come as less of a shock.
Gunnarsson will arrive in Russia in high spirits having helped Cardiff City back to the big time with promotion to the Premier League. His personal role has been significantly reduced, featuring only 20 times for the Bluebirds over the course of the season. Whilst this will have been a cause for frustration, it may well benefit Iceland as their leader goes in to the tournament with high energy levels as well as a point to prove.
Danger Man – Gylfi Sigurðsson
Few players are as important to their respective nation as Gylfi Sigurðsson is for Iceland. No player other than the great Eiður Guðjohnsen has done as much to prove that the North Atlantic nation are serious sporting contenders.
Sigurðsson is a player blessed with exceptional technique but has at times found himself overwhelmed by the superstars of Premier League football. His time at Tottenham gave us moments of brilliance but highlighted a vulnerability of character when faced with a battle for a starting place. Iceland’s Sigurdsson is an entirely different beast.
Acting as talisman for an entire nation, he has stepped up time and time again to guide his team to unlikely victories. His recovery from knee injury is essential to Iceland’s chances of progression. A fully fit Sigurdsson adds the class to a team of willing workers. If fit, Iceland have a chance.
Young Player – Albert Guðmundsson
This Icelandic squad has some wonderful back stories. The heir to the throne here is certainly Albert Guðmundsson. The 20-year-old midfielder has recently graduated from PSV Eindhoven’s development squad and at current count has six first team appearances to his name. This rise has seen him earn four caps. Remarkably, despite making a combined total of 10 senior appearances, he has an international hat-trick to his name after putting Indonesia to the sword in an ‘unofficial friendly’, whatever that is.
This is a player with remarkable heritage. His great-grandfather was Iceland’s first professional football player and Arsenal’s second ever foreign player in a career that saw him represent Rangers and AC Milan. Guðmundsson’s father, also an Icelandic international, shot to global fame in 2016 thanks to his emotional, impassioned commentary during the fairy-tale campaign. Guðmundsson is already a famous name amongst Icelandic football followers. A big moment in Russia could see young Albert write the next famous chapter of the family legacy.
Premier League Players
Sigurdsson is the star turn in this category. His early form at Everton drew a fair bit of criticism but he had shown a major upturn in performance prior to his unfortunate injury. Sigurdsson, though, is not the highest ranked Icelander in this season’s table.
Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson has established himself as a key figure in Sean Dyche’s Burnley squad. He has provided grit and quality in equal measure to help the Clarets earn the most unlikely of European campaigns in the season to come. There are, in fact, a fair few similarities between Guðmundsson’s club and international sides.
Captain Gunnarsson will join the Premier League contingent next season, providing he remains at Cardiff.
I was lucky enough to watch Iceland’s Euro 2016 clash with Austria in the official Paris fanzone. I vividly remember celebrating as if I was half Viking when they scored a last minute winner to advance. Partly I was swept up by the magic of it all, but mainly it was for selfish reasons. Iceland would now face England in the round of 16. We’d been handed a bye to the Quarter Final! I was pleased for little Iceland, happy that they would get a big day out against a footballing superpower. I had already looked in to the possibility of extending my stay to take in our potential last 8 tie against France. Then it happened.
The point of this drawn out opening is that I will not underestimate Iceland again. England as a nation learned to our peril two summers ago that they are actually a very well-drilled and talented football side. Their spirit is infectious and the support from their slow clapping fans provides a backing for the footballing history they, as a squad, are currently writing. I simply cannot and will not predict how they will fare this time round.
Screw it, they will lose heavily to Argentina and narrowly Croatia and go out at the group stage with just one point. I have my humble pie ready.
My Final Prediction – 4th in group & eliminated
Written by Dan Fox.