FIFA World Cup 2018™: How Iceland Overachieved

FIFA World Cup 2018™: How Iceland Overachieved

The word “historic” gets thrown around
in football like confetti. But there can be little doubt that Iceland’s
qualification for the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia was exactly that. The Icelandic national team’s 2-0 victory
versus Kosovo in the Laugardalsvöllur [LAY-GER-DAL-SVOL-IER] in Reykjavik last October saw them reach their
first World Cup finals. But, most impressively, Iceland became the
smallest country to ever reach the finals, a record that is unlikely to ever be broken. Iceland has a population of just 335,000,
about the same as Coventry. If Iceland were a city in the US (a country
who, remember, failed to qualify for Russia) it would only by the 57th largest in the country. For once the term “historic” barely does
their achievement justice. So how did one of the smallest nations on
earth, with a domestic league that is semi-pro, do it? As ever, that story begins long before their
campaign started in 2016 and involves a Swede, a dentist, government investment, the Eurovision
song contest and Motherwell. For decades, and as you might expect from
a country with such a small population, Iceland was one of the lowest ranked nations in Europe. The national team hadn’t even won a World
Cup qualification match until 1977’s 1-0 victory against Northern Ireland. [Tweet, Icelandic 1977 front page] In fact, when they began qualification for
Brazil 2014, they were ranked in Pot 6, alongside San Marino and Andorra. But that doesn’t mean they had no history. Albert Guðmundsson was Iceland’s first professional
player, turning out for both Arsenal and AC Milan in the 1940s. And there was, of course, the evergreen former
Chelsea and Barcelona striker Eiður Guðjohnsen – Iceland’s record goalscorer – who famously
made his debut for Iceland in 1996 by replacing his father Arnór during a match against Estonia. [YouTube video of the moment Eidur makes his
debut…] Iceland’s plan for World Cup qualification
began at the turn of the century. It’s no surprise to hear that Iceland is pretty
cold in the winter. The league starts in May and by November football
is all but impossible outside. So, in 2000, an ambitious project began which
saw seven indoor, full sized football halls built. Over the next eight years more than 200 small,
all weather pitches, were built in some of the most remote villages in the country. It allowed football to be played by anyone,
all year around. Coaching became a profession, rather than
staffed by volunteers. Coaching badges were heavily subsidised. Iceland now has nearly 500 UEFA B license
coaches for children up to 16. The state issued 300 euro vouchers so that
any child could get top class coaching. At the time, Iceland was awash with cash until
the 2008 financial crisis virtually bankrupted the island. Still, the investment continued and once the
best of those children had grown into players for teams in Iceland’s part time football
league, they were quickly moved on to more competitive professional leagues in Europe
to get better experience. That generation of players came to the fore
during 2014 qualification. The likes of Gylfi Sigurðsson, Alfreð Finnbogason,
Aron Gunnarsson and, from the old guard, Eiður Guðjohnsen. The only player in the squad to play in Iceland
was goalkeeper Hannes Halldórsson, a part time filmmaker who directed the 2012 Icelandic
Eurovision Song contest entry “Never Forget” by Greta Salome and Jonsi, which finished
a respectable 20th in the final, well ahead of the UK’s Engelbert Humperdinck. [Hannes’ Eurovision video] But the final piece of the jigsaw was the
coaching team. Sweden’s Lars Lagerbäck took over and appointed
Heimir Hallgrímsson, who worked part time as a dentist, as his assistant. Together they helped to organise a team that
was fiendishly hard to beat, as Switzerland found when, after leading 4-1, drew 4-4 with
Iceland thanks to one of best hat tricks you will ever see by Jóhann Gudmundsson, now
of Burnley. [Highlights of the 4-4 draw…] For Lagerbäck, Iceland’s success was about
more than investment and tactics: “Besides football the character amongst the players
and people in general is very, very good. They are not spoilt and they are taking care
of themselves. I like the country and the society as a whole.” After years of coming nowhere near the World
Cup, Iceland drew their final game of 2014 qualification against Norway and made it to
the play offs, where they faced Croatia. After a creditable 0-0 draw in a freezing
Reykjavik, Iceland lost 2-0 in Zagreb. Guðjohnsen tearfully retired live on TV and
Lagerbäck considered quitting, sensing, like his players, that such an opportunity would
never be repeated. But Lagerbäck stayed, making Hallgrímsson
joint coach and grooming him for succession. This time, they would make no mistakes and
qualified for Euro 2016 out of a tough group including Holland and Turkey, their first
ever major finals. The least said about their knockout stage
victory against England, the better. But! The Iceland story went global, as did their
Thunderclap celebration which, was, in fact borrowed from Motherwell after the Icelandic
club side Stjarnan saw it during a trip to Scotland for a Europa League qualifier. The next goal was Russia 2018, and this time
Hallgrímsson took full control of the team. With many of the same players that came so
close to Brazil 2014, and with Croatia in the same group, Iceland got to the final round
of matches with fate in their hands. They won 2-0 and the players later took to
a stage in central Reykjavik and celebrated with tens of thousands of their country men
and women. In an era when the club game has eroded the
pre-eminence and importance of international football, Iceland was a timely reminder that
the international game still means something. That with the right direction and the right
investment, everyone has a chance. And that, in a globalised world that at times
seems so unsure of itself, pride in a flag and a team is nothing to be ashamed of.

100 Replies to “FIFA World Cup 2018™: How Iceland Overachieved”

  1. Watching these boys ever since there first qualifier in ukraine and what a journey it was so many emotions

  2. We also worked for you twat . We only have educated coaches that train kids down to age 5 . We train all year long in our inside stadiums . And the core of this team now has played together since u-17 and even younger . So they fight for the next man . And the main core all moved you to either Scandinavia or Holland. And Lars was essential to help our boys . We are here to stay . !

  3. I kid you not, this actually brought tears to my eyes… i am a Portuguese and I hope Iceland do well!!

  4. Iceland is pumped for the world cup. Do the viking clap with us at home. Its not about nationality. Its about unity 😉 huhh!!

  5. A lot of government money invested in football, Iceland seems to be very socialist in that regard, on the other hand US is very proud capitalist, has a population 100000% bigger than Iceland and yet they failed to qualified.

  6. As a Finnish person it is quite annoying that every other Nordic country except us has qualified for World Cup at least once. When we have easy group, we have shit team and once we have good team, we always get difficult group :/

  7. Dude they made the semi finals of euro 2016. Overachived? Then u can look at englands lone wc victory as overachiving?

  8. Nice video, me as a Pole am gonna cheer for my team, but I will support Iceland too. They showed what they can do during Euro 2016 and I think they will pursue their campaign.

  9. great story…I think everybody, including this Nigerian fan, will be rooting for Iceland…

  10. do sweden next, how they managed to get 2:nd in a group with france and netherlands and then went on to beat italy

  11. I'm supporting Iceland. I know they won't win, but I hope to see them make it to Round of 16, hopefully Quarter-Finals.

  12. Lol it is not impossible to play out side over the winter in Iceland?? we have football halls but most of the teams play out side the whole year…

  13. Finland has never been in the world cup. We got beat by Iceland in qualification. Finnish soccer is nothing but a joke.

  14. Can you make a video about östersunds fk from the 4th division in Sweden to group play against arsenal in 7 years. The club Is in a little city with 50 000 inhabitants and won against arsenal in London with 10% of the city watching in the arena

  15. Well beating England and drawing with Argentina with Messi.

    That's s big achievement and hopefully they will improve more.

    Their investment in stadiums and developing players paid off well

  16. Why does everything have to be compared to the US and soccer? Hello like only 3 people play soccer here xD

  17. I love how i as an icelander cringe everytime anyone tries to say something in icelandic because omg everyone just kills the pronounciaton
    (I luv u tho)

  18. Why are they called finals if it's the group stage… That means everything in the world cup is part of the finals that makes no sense. The finals are after the group stage

  19. "THIS IS how iceland Overachieved, It all started with a SWED…"
    … lars is a great coach, one of the best.
    but name more current players and give them more credit for it.

  20. I’ve been following JB gudmundsson career since 2012. People don’t appreciate the fact that the Iceland team does have quality players

  21. They used tax money to subsidize football (football!), money that could have been used to grow the economy and incentivize new innovation. But no, let's force all of the citizens to pay for coaches and football courts that can't even survive on a commercial basis. Wow, *very* impressive.

  22. Feels so bad that our country (Indonesia) cannot into World Cup even with 260M ppl. Our last participation is 80 years ago (1938) when everyone getting busy with WW2:(

  23. They were in top of the group for Russia 2018 qualifications because Croatian national team were sabotaging the Croatian coach. When you look at the coaches of Croatia in last few tournament they are all different…

  24. Iceland… never, ever allow the mass immigration hoards, as the rest of Europe has, into your beautiful Nation. Learn from our mistakes. Congratulations. Great team to watch. Beautiful game. 🇮🇸 #Brexit 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿

  25. Wait… We Scots invented the Thunderclap?

    Meh… Iceland do it better and I'm rooting for them to get through

  26. Just btw, wasnt all this investing into sports a part of the campaign to reduce youth alcohol and drug usage? Or that was later?

  27. btw, wasnt all this investing into sports a part of the campaign to reduce youth alcohol and drug usage? Or that was later?

  28. btw, wasnt all this investing into sports a part of the campaign to reduce youth alcohol and drug usage? Or that was later?

  29. why didt mention their run at the euro 2016? Where they got a 1:1 vs later champions portugal and beat england in the best of 16 match 2:1 only falling to france a round later

  30. So many encounters with Croatia, eh. Strangely fitting (and sad), that in the end they were defeated by Croatia yet again, and failed to reach the knockout phase of Russia 2018.

  31. The nicest thing about the whole story, which wasn't mentioned in this video, is this – as Iceland have risen to become a credible football power punching well above their weight, the inspiration it has given to ordinary Icelanders has caused the country's obesity levels, and particularly its childhood obesity levels, have fallen through the floor, in stark contrast to most of Europe. Iceland's progress as a footballing nation has, in a very real way, saved lives.

  32. I really hope they win at some point, if they keep improving at some point I believe they can accomplish a eurocup or world cup.

  33. Iceland punch above their weight like no other nation I've ever seen. Thoroughly deserved to beat my shambolic England at Euro 2016, yet were nothing but dignified and respectful about it. Then they followed that by reaching the World Cup. I don't ever want to hear nations like Scotland prattle on about "not enough people" again, these lads prove that all you need is 23 good hard workers.

  34. Lagerbäck, I always hated his maneging style and boring football. But I have to say he did a really good work with Iceland. Respect to Lars.

  35. It's cause they play competitive football they are like a bunch of boys playing a football match chances, shots, goals all in a second yet very dangerous on the counter with awkwardly scored goals that are somehow hard to save, (I'm talking about you Joe Hart -_- lol)

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