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Icelanders celebrate soccer side's French fairytale

By Ragnhildur Sigurdardottir

REYKJAVIK (Reuters) - Icelanders exploded with joy and pride when their national side claimed a 2-1 victory against Austria for a place in the knockout stages of Euro 2016 on Wednesday, writing the most glorious page in their sporting history.

In living rooms and bars across the country of 330,000, locals draped in the national flag screamed, sang and danced after substitute Arnor Ingvi Traustason scored a stoppage-time winner that secured their ticket for the final 16.

In central Reykjavik, residents partied in the street with strangers hugging and crying, Reykjavik Grapevine, an Icelandic news website and magazine, reported. "The fairytale continues," local daily Frettabladid's headline said on Thursday.

The country had shut down early ahead of the game, with many workplaces closing for business to let employees watch the match, which started at 4pm local time.

"There were a few tears. My son-in-law shouted so much, he thinks he has broken a rib," said Matthias Kjartansson, 60, who was watching the game at home with his family.

"The final seconds of the game, I hardly believed it, it was just a fantastic result."

An estimated eight percent of the population is in France to support the national side, including the island's Prime minister.

"There are no words to describe this result," PM Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson told Icelandic broadcaster RUV from France.

"We are competing for the first time in a big tournament - the men that is, the women have surely done that before - and here they are writing a big chapter in the nation's sports history."

National carrier Icelandair is considering adding extra flights to France, in expectations of more Icelanders wanting to support the team, local broadcaster RUV reported.

Some were shocked that Iceland were able to go further than the group stage.

"To be honest we were a little surprised," said Ragnar Eiriksson, 37, a chef at Dill restaurant in central Reykjavik who watched the game with staff ahead of the evening service.

"People were feeling fortunate just to have qualified for the Euro and see our football team able to play in such a tournament."

Iceland will meet England on Monday. If England fans think their side got lucky by meeting Iceland in the next round, maybe they should think twice.

"We drew against Portugal and won against Austria. I think we are going to do it," said Eiriksson. "I am looking forward to Monday."

And the dream of repeating the successes of Denmark in 1992 and Greece in 2004, when both sides won the tournament as massive underdogs, has been very much boosted by the team's success so far.

"If we play organised like we have done so far, we definitely have a chance," said Kjartansson. "We are not there just to participate, we are here to win."

(Writing by Gwladys Fouche, editing by Julien Pretot)

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