Is Iceland International Football’s Answer to Leicester City?

Iceland's forward Eidur Gudjohnsen (4th R) and team mates takes part in a Euro 2016 training session at the d'Albigny sports center in Annecy le Vieux, south west France, on June 15, 2016. / AFP / ODD ANDERSEN (Photo credit should read ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images)

The doors are locked,  phones are off, you’ve phoned in sick for work, you’ve canceled all plans, the curtains are pulled. All this means one of two things – You’re worried sick by the thought of a Trump presidency… or you’re consumed by the football taking place in France.

With the likes of Spain, Germany, Italy, and the hosts all looking strong, the competition for a place in the final on Sunday, July 10th is absolutely fierce. With so many newspapers and websites writing about obvious favorites, how this is finally ‘England’s year,’ and how teams like Austria, with Bayern Munich’s David Alaba, and Belgium, with Hazard and Lukaku, will bounce back, we thought about venturing down a different path.

We asked: “Is there any country that can do a Leicester City on it?”

Is there a country that can defy the odds, stage upset after upset, and leave us all lost for words? After all, this is the tournament famed for
major upsets—Denmark in 1992 and Greece in 2004. Yes, folks, Greece!

The now expanded tournament features 24 teams instead of 16, and some cynics have criticized organizers for diluting the quality. However, the
expansion does give Wales, Northern Ireland and Albania, all newcomers to the competition, a chance to make history and light up the stage. Although, if we’re being honest, Wales are the only one of the three truly capable of causing a major upset.

It’s another  newcomer, however, that embodies everything beautiful about the beautiful game. With a population of 323,000, the Nordic island nation of Iceland has already brought a little romance to France.

Is Iceland International Football’s Answer to Leicester City?

Defined by dramatic volcanic landscapes, hot springs, waterfalls, glaciers and black-sand beaches,Iceland is famous for many things, namely: geothermal energy, hydraulic energy, the world’s oldest parliamentary institute, the world’s first democratically elected female head of state, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, the world’s first openly gay head of government, former Prime Minister, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, the inimitable musical goliath that is Sigur Rós, weird, food, an advanced fishing industry, advanced gay rights, dirty bankers (like most countries), and an unusual fascination with elves.

After qualifying for the Euros, another notable achievement was added to the list, as Iceland became the smallest country in history (population
wise) to qualify for a major tournament. Beating Turkey, a nation of 75 million, in the qualifiers, Iceland also beat the Netherlands twice without
conceding a single goal—quite an achievement, especially when you consider the fact that this is a county that had never won two consecutive matches in any competition.

Under the stewardship of Lars Lagerbäck, Iceland illuminated the qualifying campaign, capturing the hearts and imaginations of millions. Hired in 2011, Lagerbäck arrived with a reputation as a results driven, highly successful manager. After guiding Sweden to five tournaments in a row, Lagerbäck then took Nigeria to the World Cup in 2010. Never a man to do things by halves, the veteran has always demanded full professionalism from his players, and 2011 saw him gradually instill a new culture, one Icelandic football was unaccustomed to – a winning culture. Although FIFA’s world ranking system is somewhat farcical, the Swede took Iceland from 134th to 34th place, a feat that is as impressive as it is incomprehensible.

The dramatic change started with the backroom staff. Lagerbäck employed two of the best physiotherapists in Scandinavia, a masseuse, a top class doctor, and a private chef (for the team, not for himself). Additionally, the manager hired a cameraman who, according to reports, records training sessions and games with a wide angle lens, all in the effort of making game analysis easier and more comprehensive.

The bigger, more feared nations could learn a thing or two from the Nordic minnows, their management structure, and the natural chemistry that exists. Last night, after equalizing against Portugal, the scenes were magnificent, the genuine passion shown by the players was both moving and refreshing.

Player to watch – Gylfi Sigurðsson, undoubtedly Iceland’s best player. A set-piece specialist of the highest caliber, on his day, the midfielder possesses a game changing skillset. The Swansea City talisman, one of Iceland’s most consistent performers in qualifying, was quiet last night, but his touch, spatial awareness, and clever movement underlined his class.

It would be rude not to mention Eidur Gudjohnsen. Now 37, the demigod has played for Barcelona, Chelsea, Bolton, Stoke and Fulham, and has been with Norwegian club Molde since February of this year. Having burst onto the scene back in 1996, many are asking if, twenty years on, the legend can finish his international career on a high.

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