Iceland has finally qualified for the WC 2018. In doing so, they became the smallest nation to qualify for the tournament. Their first qualification should have arguably arrived at the 2014 World Cup, but a heart-wrenching 2-0 defeat at the hands of Croatia shattered their dreams, leaving the citizens of the Nordic nation waiting for another 4 years in the hopes of qualifying for the tournament.
Their dreams have finally come true, as they sealed their spot by defeating Kosovo on October 9th 2017. The team's success didn't end there, as Iceland finished at the top of its qualification group and ended the qualifying rounds with 2 more points than Croatia.
It's almost poetic that they've now been placed in the same group as Croatia and every fan of the team will be hoping Iceland will be able to exact revenge for their untimely elimination four years ago. Iceland's run to the World Cup is undoubtedly like a fairy tale, but there's no magic involved in the team's story, as a combination of pragmatism and sheer hard work has allowed them the opportunity to showcase their talents on a global stage.
Without much further ado, let's check out 5 insane facts about the Iceland football team you need to know.
#5 Their Head Coach is a part-time dentist
A brilliant team can be made to look completely ordinary on the pitch if it is sets foot on the it with a mediocre manager at its helm. The opposite is also true. Heimir Hallgrimmson is the man who has orchestrated Iceland's ascent to the top and he shows no signs of slowing down as the World Cup approaches.
Regardless of how the team's run is in the competition itself, Hallgrimmson's management of the team will be regarded as a massive success. He is no flash in the pan, his tactical nous and understanding of the strengths and limitations of his team have been of paramount importance in helping Iceland reach such heights.
Hallgrimmson's humble beginnings can be traced back to the island of Vestmanaeyjar, which has a population of just 5000 people, where he started out as a dentist before leaving to become the manager of the team. Taking his team to the World Cup hasn't stopped Hallgrimmson from working as a dentist on a part-time basis though and if that isn't dedication, we don't know what is.
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#4 15 of their 23 national players have never played in foreign leagues
Iceland has a total of approximately 21,500 registered football players. Out of those 21,500 players, 23 of them play for the national team and of those 23, 15 are homegrown talents who have never plied their trade in foreign leagues. This means that only about 35% of the Icelandic national team has played regular football outside the country.
When these numbers are pitted against the team's achievements over the last few years, they are mind-boggling. Gylfi Sigurdsson is perhaps the most notable Icelandic player as of now, as a player for Everton in the Barclays Premier League. The lack of big names in the squad has not deterred Iceland in the slightest, as it has gone on to surpass expectations at every turn possible.
#3 The country is crazy about the team
International matches have a way of bringing the citizens of a country together. This is especially true for the World Cup.
The atmosphere at a World Cup match is often electric, as the stadium is roaring with the screams of ardent supporters that have traveled hundreds of miles to see their teams play. The streets are often empty when a country is playing, as every citizen sits at home, glued to the television screen, hoping for a victory. This is not an anomaly, this is a part of international football.
Iceland is still a rather fresh face on the international stage, however, they have amassed a rabid fan-base in little-to-no time. Their fans are loud, they are enthusiastic and they push their team to consistently do better.
These statements are not platitudes, as 98.6% of the country's population watched a Euro 2016 match of Iceland versus Hungary on Iceland TV. If those numbers hit 100 for the World Cup, it really will not be that surprising.
#2 The Viking Clap
Iceland is a small country, but their fans rival those of the biggest nations in the world.
The Viking Clap is a unique way for the players and fans to connect at the end of matches by clapping their hands over their heads in sync with the beats of a drum. The resulting sound can crack the skies open and is terrifying to anyone who opposes the team. It is a celebration of Icelandic values and an acknowledgment of how far the team has come.
The Viking Clap is synonymous with the team and has been copied by teams in the National Football League, most notably the Minnesota Vikings. The Viking Clap is a sight to behold and everyone will be in for a treat when the supporters perform it in Russia.
#1 They have moved up 27 places in FIFA Rankings over the last 5 years
5 years ago, Iceland's national team ranking was 49th. Today, they are 22nd, which means that over the last 5 years, they have moved up by approximately 27 places in FIFA rankings. Allow that to sink in for just a moment.
This is precisely why calling Iceland's run to the World Cup a miracle is problematic, because it is not a miracle. It is a testament to the sustained hard work of the team's coaches and players over the years to consistently improve upon past achievements and become as good as possible.
There is no magic involved, there is no super serum, there is only planning and execution and there is no denying those plans have been executed to perfection.
Do you think that Iceland's wonderful run will come to a halt at the World Cup? Are they deserving of their spot?
Share your views in the comments below!