The Iceland national team not only did their own fans proud during their miraculous run in Euro 2016, but they also won over the hearts of football fans all over the world. The attention is now on this year’s World Cup in Russia, however, after the little island with a population of only 350,000 gets ready to make its first appearance on the world’s biggest stage.
When you think back to Iceland at Euro 2016, the image of the one and only Icelandic clap surely springs to mind. The Iceland fans became famous across the world for their Viking-like chant and put more than a few of their team’s opponents off their game in the process.
Their path to Euro 2016 was by no means easy. They kicked off their qualification campaign in group A against Turkey and defied expectations to beat them and instantly climb to the top of the standings. Next up was a meeting with Holland, who had finished third in the 2014 World Cup. That didn’t scare off Iceland, who won their second game in a row to defend their position in first. Czech Republic were the first team to hand Iceland a loss, but the roles would be reversed in the rematch between the two sides a game later. They followed this with an unprecedented second win over Holland. Then, Iceland made the longest trip of any team in qualification when they travelled to play Kazakhstan. The 0-0 draw wasn’t quite enough to secure first place, but it was enough to qualify nonetheless.
The 2016 Euros in France
Iceland were drawn into group F alongside one of the tournament’s favourites Portugal, as well as Austria and Hungary. Portugal were up first and a good performance was rewarded with a fantastic point. The second game against Hungary also ended 1-1, meaning it all came down to the final game. And it was a special one. A hard fought 2-1 victory over Austria was Iceland’s first ever win in an international competition and the whole contingent of Iceland fans celebrated aptly with an unforgettable rendition of the Icelandic clap. The last 16 brought with it more European heavyweights, this time in the form of England.
England clearly underestimated the will of little old Iceland and suffered one of the most unexpected and embarrassing defeats in its history. “Strákarnir okkar” (our boys) beat England 2-1 to keep their dream alive, even if it meant a meeting with host nation France in the quarter-finals. The French proved to be too strong for this upstart Iceland team, beating them 5-2 on their way to an eventual place in the final. Still, the two late goals from Kolbeinn Sigthorsson and Birkir Bjarnason were celebrated as if Iceland had just taken the lead. Reaching the quarter-finals was a huge achievement, even if a few of the Iceland fans had started to dream of something more. FCA striker Alfred Finnbogason made three appearances in the tournament, including two as a substitute in the group stage. He came into the quarter-final with the score at 4-0.
World Cup debut for Iceland and Finnbogason
Qualifying for Russia 2018 was simply the next in a long line of amazing achievements. Iceland won seven of their qualification games, with Finnbogason scoring three times (once against Turkey, Finland and Ukraine). Another fantastic performance in qualifying meant Iceland had secured their spot in the World Cup without much of a problem.
Nevertheless, the time for celebration is over. A tough group awaits Iceland, including former World Cup winners and international giants Argentina. The game against the Argentineans will take place on 16th June in Moscow. The second game will be played against Nigeria (22nd June), before a meeting with Croatia (26th June) decides whether the dream can continue. Nevertheless, this golden age of Icelandic football is set to continue onto the biggest stage that world football has to offer.