Iceland were knocked out of Euro 2016 by the home nation France in the quarter-final on Sunday evening where they lost 5-2. The island-nation made it to the knockout stages after finishing above Portugal in their group to finish 2nd just shy of 1st place Hungary. This was already an impressive accomplishment, but was soon to be topped much to the dismay of England fans as Iceland triumphed over a very lacklustre England side 2-1 to reach the last 8.
Although they lost to France, the Icelanders returned home on Monday to a hero’s welcome, where tens of thousands of the population gathered in the capital of Reykjavík. They were paraded in an open-top bus to wild cheers from the country which was already captivated by their performance, not only in the tournament but when qualifying as well, as the Vikings beat teams like Turkey, Czech Republic and the Netherlands. So, why will Iceland’s campaign will be remembered as a one of the greatest Euro stories in history?
Firstly, their population as a country; which amounts to around 329,000 people, is one of Europe’s smallest. It was for this reason that people were surprised when they defied the odds to qualify for their first major tournament. Their manager is a part-time dentist and their goalkeeper was a film director.
The fans that traveled to to France equated to 10% of their population, with around 30,000 supporters making the three-and-a-half hour journey to cheer on their team. To put it into perspective, if 10% of England’s population made the equivalent journey, then France would have had an influx of 5.3 million people.
The fans were also an inspiration to everyone as well as their team. You could hear them throughout every game, even when they were losing 5-2 to the hosts. They demonstrated that you can be civil and loud in and out of a football stadium, putting fans from other countries who were rightly labelled as hooligans to shame. You could not say a bad word about the Iceland supporters, and their Viking clap was heard around the land. There should be nothing but respect for the people who love their country and exhibit it in ways other than violence.
Secondly, their organised style of play should attract plaudits, despite Cristiano Ronaldo reacting like a spoiled child about Iceland holding Portugal to a draw. Iceland frustrated teams and played on the counter-attack. However, they were not just there to make up the numbers, and they showed they could compete with the best of teams like Portugal and England.
Their defence was admirable at times and when attacking, they showed they were more than a counter-attack side, scoring from set-plays as well as passing their way into scoring opportunities. I personally found their football exciting, and you can’t question it, as for the most part, it worked, with Iceland able to take full advantage of defensive errors made by their opponents – England especially.
Iceland’s squad wasn’t particularly strong, with just three of their starting XI playing in England, Sigurdsson being the most prolific. It just goes to show that a good team can overcome a group of talented individuals, as they held Portugal; who arguably possess the best player in the world, to a draw. Iceland gave many teams a lesson in defending in the duration of this tournament.
So, Iceland may have been knocked out, but there is still plenty of cause for celebration. They overcame teams with superior players, facilities and coaching staff, but their fans in my opinion were one of the best in the tournament.
Iceland’s performance will be known as one of the great underdog stories – maybe not to the same extent as Greece winning the tournament back in 2004, but still a terrific showing nonetheless.
Iceland did not leave empty handed mind, winning €14 million in prize money. They also bring back a record, with the fact they have more volcanoes than footballers being one that can never be beaten. Deploying the same starting XI throughout the tournament, Iceland fielded a team with all players’ surnames ending in the same three letters – ‘son’. This previously beat Denmark’s record at Euro 1964 where they fielded ten players with the surname ending in ‘sen’.
So, to everyone’s favourite underdog this year, thank you Iceland, it has been a blast!
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