Those who were at the stands at stadiums across France, or watched the 2016 UEFA Euro on big screens TV, will not forget the phenomenal: Thousands of Iceland national team fans doing the tomahawk in a coordinated act, shouting and chanting, pushing their surprising and likeable team all the way to the quarter-finals. After all, it was the first major tournament that Iceland has reached and it seemed like the whole country was in the stands.
A surprise? A one-time event? After qualifying for the Euro for the first time ever, Iceland then went out and qualified for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia, thus becoming the smallest country ever – population 333,200 – to qualify for a world cup tournament.
Unlike its Scandinavian neighbors, especially Denmark and Sweden and to a lesser extent Norway, Iceland’s local football league is not internationally famous and its teams don’t participate in European competition. Therefore, the exposure of Iceland football overseas hasn’t been great. Well, it was not existed really, unless you count some footballers who played in Europe.
Iceland didn’t enter the qualification rounds of world cups between 1930-1970. Starting with 1974 it did, but never qualified. And then came the miracle of Euro 2016.
In its first game of a major tournament ever, Iceland drew 1-1 with eventual Euro Champion Portugal and did the same on the next game against Hungary. It took a 2-1 win over Austria to advance to the knockout round and rattle the world of football. Iceland didn’t flinch while beating former world champion and powerhouse England 2-1 and advance to the quarter-finals. That proved to be too much and ended in a 2-5 loss to home favorite France.
Iceland’s most famous football son is of course Eidur Gudjohnsen, who, after coming up the ranks in Icelandic teams, played for Bolton Wanderers, Chelsea, Barcelona, Monaco, Tottenham Hotspur, Stoke City, Fullham and AEK Athens, among others. His list of achievements is long and distinguished: Two Premier League, A Community Shield Cup and a Football League Cup titles with Chelsea, a La Liga, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, Copa del Rey and Supercopa de Espania titles with Barcelona.
Iceland’s most famous active footballer is attacking midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson, who began his international career in the English lower divisions before joining 1899 Hoffenheim. He then moved to Swansea City for a very successful period, before joining Tottenham Hotspur, back to Swansea and in the summer 2017 he was sold to Everton for a huge sum of 40 million GBP.
Iceland’s most caped player is Runar Kristinsson, who appeared in 104 international games between 1987-2004.
Gudjohnsen is the top scorer with 26 goals in 88 caps.
Iceland, who play in all white or all blue, play its home games in Laugardalsvollur national stadium in the capital Reykjavik, with a capacity of 15,000 seats.
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