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Interview: Tactical "brainwashing" can take Iceland far - Hauksson

By Philip O'Connor

LILLE, France (Reuters) - Iceland, the smallest nation ever to reach the finals of a major soccer tournament, have no fear of their more illustrious opponents at Euro 2016 thanks to their coach's "tactical brainwashing", defender Haukur Hauksson said.

Lars Lagerback's Iceland face England in their last-16 game on Monday after drawing with Portugal and Hungary and getting a shock win over Austria to claim second place in Group F.

Lagerback, famed for his meticulous approach, has had plenty of directives for his team but surprisingly has said little about the star players they are facing in France, such as Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo.

"A few days before the game it's only tactics and stuff. It's almost like he's brainwashing us with his tactics," Hauksson chuckled.

"We didn't really have a plan for Ronaldo. He (Lagerback) just said that if we defend well as a team and one-on-one, because they have a lot of players who are good one-on-one, and if we can defend those situations then we would be able to stop them.

"I think we really did well in those (group) games. They are probably the main things he told us."

The 24-year-old full back from Akureyri in the north of Iceland has seen no playing time yet at Euro 2016 but he is enjoying the adventure, especially since the 2-1 defeat of Austria thanks to a late goal by Arnor Traustason.

"After the game the coach ordered two beers apiece, so that was really good. I think it was well deserved, everybody was buzzing," he told Reuters by telephone from the team's base in Annecy-le-Vieux in southern France.

"Arnor spent most of the next day on his phone getting new followers on Instagram and Facebook!"

Though they are enjoying the sunshine and the pool at the team hotel, Hauksson said Iceland were working hard as they prepared to face England, even those on the bench.

"The day after a game the players that didn't play got a really intense training. Those of us that don't play have to keep hitting the gym and stuff," says Hauksson, who plays his club football for AIK in Sweden's Allsvenskan.

Having grown up watching England's Premier League on the dark Icelandic winter Saturdays, Hauksson says the England game in Nice is a huge one for his side but they will not be in awe of their opponents.

"I don't think that's going to be a problem, just like when we played against Ronaldo. I don't think anybody was thinking he's one of the best players in the world," he explained.

"When we go out on the pitch it's 11 versus 11. We have a good team and if we play well we have a chance against anyone."

With the entire country virtually shutting down every time they play, Hauksson said the mood in their camp was buoyant and Iceland had the self-belief to go a long way.

"If we play well and stay compact and play good defence, we can do well against any opponent," he said.

"I think we can go far but we have to take it one game at a time and the next game is England. Hopefully we can have a very good game there."

(Editing by Clare Fallon)

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