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Reykjavik to shut down as Iceland's enjoys Euro saga

Supporters of Iceland’s national soccer team Benjamin Arni Hallbjoernsson (L to R), Styrmir Gislason and Petur Orri Gislason have a drink in a café in Reykjavik, Iceland, May 24, 2016. REUTERS/Gwladys Fouche/Files
Supporters of Iceland’s national soccer team Benjamin Arni Hallbjoernsson (L to R), Styrmir Gislason and Petur Orri Gislason have a drink in a café in Reykjavik, Iceland, May 24, 2016. REUTERS/Gwladys Fouche/Files

By Ragnhildur and Sigurdarddottir

REYKJAVIK (Reuters) - The Icelandic capital is facing another shutdown on Monday as the tiny North Atlantic nation's Euro 2016 saga unfolds with a knockout tie against England in Nice.

A late winner over Austria handed Iceland second spot in Group F behind Hungary and qualification for the last 16, sending the Austrians home, with Portugal also going through as one of the four best third-placed teams.

Iceland is the smallest nation ever to qualify for the European Championship and an estimated 10 percent of Iceland's population of around 330,000 is in France to follow the team, with the rest glued to their TV screens at home.

The joy of the nation is summed up in a viral video of Icelandic TV commentator Gudmundur Benediktsson as Elmar Bjarnason, whom the commentator referred to by his nickname Emmi, broke free in injury time.

"Three against two! Emmi! Get into the penalty area, get into the penalty area!" he implored, before screaming joyously as Arnor Traustason fired home the decisive goal.

"Yes Yes Yes! We have won! We are now in last 16! My voice has gone but it doesn't matter because we are going through! We have won against Austria!"

Reykjavik resident Inga Stefansdottir, who watched the game at home with family and friends, said she had a similar reaction to that of the TV commentator.

She said the game, broadcast at four o'clock local time, led to a complete shutdown in the capital city.

"People were getting home from work early, kindergartens told parents to pick up the children earlier," she said. "There was not a soul on the streets, it was like a shutdown in Iceland. Everyone was watching the game."

For Iceland, which suffered enormously following the global financial crisis in 2008, the exploits of the football team are a welcome good news story in a country that has struggled to get itself back on track.

Financing for football has been ring-fenced and fans expect that there will be even greater investment following their successful showing at the Euros.

"It is a very positive thing. For the football federation, lots of money comes in," Stefansdottir says.

"It has brought the nation together. The Icelandic people are like a very big family right now."

(Additional reporting and writing by Philip O'Connor in Lille, editing by Clare Lovell.)

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