Iceland Qualifies for Euro2016
For the first time in Icelandic football history, the men's national team has qualified for a major tournament. After a defeat against Croatia in 2013, denying them the chance of playing in the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, the Icelandic squad returned in force. Led by veteran Swedish manager Lars Lagerbäck and local trainer Heimir Hallgrímsson, the team showed their determination by finishing second in their group and, with only two games left, securing their position at Euro 2016 in France. During their run they defeated football giants Netherlands twice, both home and away, as well as Turkey and the Czech Republic at home.
Iceland’s Euro 2016 qualifying team features players that have been active and regular players for several major clubs in Europe. Players like Gylfi Sigurðsson, Kolbeinn Sigþórsson and of course, Eiður Smári Guðjohnsen, formerly of Chelsea FC and FC Barcelona.
Interesting Icelandic Football Facts
- As a nation of just 330,000, Iceland is the smallest nation ever to qualify for the European Championship finals. Before Iceland, the smallest nation to qualify was Slovenia, with a population just under 2 million
- The nickname for the men's national team in Iceland, Strákarnir okkar, means Our Boys. Similarly, the women's team is referred to as Stelpurnar okkar, or Our Girls
- In September 2015, Iceland played the Netherlands in Amsterdam. Approximately 3,000 supporters flew from Iceland to cheer Our Boys on against the Oranje. That amounts to roughly 1% of the entire population
- A rough estimation indicates that about 10% of the Icelandic nation will be accompanying them to France
- In 2009, 19,200 individuals were registered football practitioners in Iceland, according to statistics from the Football Association of Iceland
- The Iceland Euro qualifying team consists of players that have played together since the early stages and youth teams. The core of the squad has also remained together on a national level since the U17
- In an interview with a local newspaper, Eiður Smári Guðjohnsen remarked that he had not expected the Iceland Men's National Football Team to reach the final stages of a major tournament while he was still active. In fact, he was brought out of football retirement to be part of this historic moment
- Heimir Hallgrímsson, the second coach, works part time as a dentist in his home town of Vestmannaeyjar
- On April 26, 1996, during a friendly against Estonia in Tallinn, 17 year old Eiður Smári Guðjohnsen came on as a substitute in the second half, replacing his father, Arnór Gudjohnsen. That was the only time the pair shared a pitch, as Eiður was injured soon after and didn't recover until his father's international career was over
ICELAND’S JOURNEY TO EURO 2016
Early Stars of Icelandic Football
Although football has remained a popular sport in Iceland since its heyday in the 1890s, the Icelandic national football team has not been very successful until recently. Before 2000, Iceland had produced only a few decent players that would go on and make their mark as professional footballers.
Albert Guðmundsson was the first Icelandic player to play at a professional level. In 1944 he moved to Glasgow, Scotland, where he played for Rangers in wartime football. After a brief spell in Glasgow he moved on to London, where he played for Arsenal in England, still at an amateur level. In 1947, Guðmundsson became the first Icelander to play professional football, when he signed with Nancy in France and later AC Milan in Italy.
Ásgeir 'Sigi' Sigurvinsson is widely regarded as one of the greatest players Iceland has ever produced. He had a successful career in Germany, where, in 1984, he captained Stuttgart towards winning the Bundesliga for the first time in 32 years, earning himself a player of the year nomination.
Other notable players from the latter half of the 20th century include Pétur Pétursson, Guðni Bergsson, Atli Eðvaldsson and Arnór Guðjohnsen - Eiður Smári Guðjohnsen's father.
A New Beginning
In the early 2000s, the Icelandic Football Association realised it needed to revise its approach from the bottom up. In 2002 it began strategic reformulation of the coaching education they provided, eventually receiving A and B licences from UEFA.
Another important step was the rise of indoor training halls. With Iceland going through an economic boom, significant amounts of funds went into building quality training grounds, both indoors and outdoors, that were available all year round. The youth teams now had a chance to practice their technique despite harsh winter weather or wet summers.
The Football Association’s plans began to bear results. In 2011, the men's U21 team reached the final stages of Euro 2011 in Denmark. The core of that team would later move up into the first team. This is the team that represents Iceland at Euro 2016.
Rise of the Indoor Kids
Lagerbäck and Hallgrímsson's appointment in 2011 marked the moment when things began to turn. Soon after his arrival, Lagerbäck stated his ambition to bring the team to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Although the general population cheered, it was considered a bold statement. And yet, Iceland finished second within their qualifying group, sending them into the playoffs where they were ultimately defeated by Croatia.
In 1946, Icelandair teamed up with the national team by flying the squad to Scotland, where they played a series of games considered their first international games away. Ever since, Icelandair has accompanied the national team on their exciting journey which has brought them to the European Championship's final stages in 2016.
Highlights of Icelandic Football History
Despite the lack of tradition, people in Iceland are proud of the most successful moments in Icelandic football history. These are the highlights:
- On 5 June 1975, Iceland beat East Germany 2-1 at home
- On 5 September 1998, Iceland tied 1-1 against France at home in the Euro 2000 qualifying rounds
- On 18 August 2004, Iceland beat Italy 2-0 in a friendly at home
- On 13 October 2014, Iceland beat the Netherlands 2-0 at home in the Euro 2016 qualifying rounds
- On 3 September 2015, Iceland beat the Netherlands again in the Euro 2016 qualifying rounds, this time 1-0 and away
- On 6 September 2015, Iceland tied Kazakhstan 0-0 at home. The game was uneventful, but will always be part of Icelandic football history: the results were good enough for Iceland to qualify for Euro 2016