Iceland: A footballing model like none other

Iceland: A footballing model like none other

How Iceland’s footballing revolution has paved the way for it’s recent success

It’s the height of summer in England, June 27th. The sun is shining and beer gardens across the country are packed to the rafters with expectant fans awaiting a comfortable victory for the Three Lions against Iceland in The Euro 2016 round of 16. Roy Hodgson’s men had a shaky time of it in the group, but came out eventual runners up, behind winners Wales by a solemnly point; in turn, setting up an inviting tie against the minnows from the Arctic circle in Nice – beat them and we’re through to the quarter finals, simple. 4 minutes into the game and a cooly converted penalty by Wayne Rooney has the nation checking their respective betting apps what a 6-0 scoreline would return them off a fiver – actions that are swiftly thwarted by a Gilfy Sigurdsson reply for Iceland two minutes later, 1-1. 12 minutes go by and another goal goes in, but it’s not gone the way everyone expected it to, oh no. Iceland striker Kolbeinn Sigþórsson has found himself a bit of space on the edge of the area to calmly slot one past a wandering Joe Hart, a goal that proved to be the games winner for Iceland with them snatching a 2-1 victory and subsequently knocking England out of the tournament. Countless hours of abuse is rightfully thrown in the direction of a shambolic, outdated national side, which leads to manager Roy Hodgson resigning and calls for a complete re-vamp in the England camp. Did England mess up your acca in this tournament? You’d be forgiven, to stay on top of your accumulators in the coming tournament, check out our accumulator tips.

England’s failure against Iceland snatched the attention from a wonderful performance from the minnows

England’s abysmal display in that game against Iceland was unquestionable, but what it did do was completely overshadow just how well the minnows performed. A country with a population of only 335,000 people, and no professional league’s to it’s name were outstanding; not just in that game, but throughout the whole competition. The fact that they were even present in France last summer was an achievement that would have been deemed well beyond the realms of possibility just 5 years ago, when the country was ranked 131st in the world, and has shown everyone just how far they’ve come in recent years. With harsh winter conditions in Iceland lasting up to 8 months each year, outdoor football in the country was nearly completely killed off a mere 20 years ago. Sub zero temperatures and a severe lack of daylight meant that games quite simply couldn’t be played outside for the majority of the year and spelled the end for competitive football within the country.

Iceland have secured their place in the World Cup for the first time in their history.

In the early 1990s, Norway started building full-size indoor football pitches in the north of the country. The Icelandic FA sent a delegation there to investigate, and returned with its grand idea: a heated indoor “football house” in every town in Iceland. In 2000, the first of many football houses was constructed in Keflavic. This was to be followed by another seven full-sized indoor arena’s, alongside hundreds of smaller multi-use all weather pitches throughout the whole of the country. In fact, there is now an artificial pitch beside every school in Iceland, ensuring pupils at these establishments can enjoy football throughout the whole year, and not just within the short lived summer months.

Iceland’s desire to improve the standard of sport across the country is a warming sight

A major part of Iceland’s recent success on the international stage has been it’s willingness to introduce an infrastructure that provides footballers at all levels with the accessibility required to progress within the game, regardless of their level or social class. There’s an endearing innocence that treacle’s through the heart of Iceland’s ethos, they’re a small country doing all they can to bolster their profile within world sport, and are so far smashing it. They’ve won more ‘World’s Strongest Man’ titles than anyone else (bar the USA) and in 2008 won silver at the Olympics thanks to the extroverts of their national handball team. The football team have just made it through the the World Cup for the first time in their history, making them the smallest nation ever to attend the prestigious tournament. A qualifying campaign that has seen Heimir Hallgrímsson’s men top an extremely challenging Group I and seal their spot on the plane to Russia has paved the way for another successful campaign next summer. With just 2 losses from 10 in a group that contained the likes of Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey, it’s no fluke that the minnows from northern Europe find themselves in the position they do.

The minnows topped a solid Group I which included Croatia, Ukraine & Turkey.

Iceland have scored 7 goals without reply in their last 3 group games, and head into next June’s World Cup full of confidence that they can imitate the success of their Euro 2016 campaign. A place in the quarter finals would be unimaginable for the tiny nation situated on it’s own in the middle of the North Sea, but it’s something the unquestionable spirit of the country will feel is achievable through hard work and determination – the two things that have got them to where they are now; whether that be on the international stage, or simply at the grassroots levels they have worked so hard to improve over the past two decades. Iceland aren’t going to win the World Cup next year, but the fact they are there at all is a feat we can all take heart from. They’re not the best team in the competition, not by a long stretch, but they’ve had perhaps a much bigger impact on world football than they may realise by cementing their place in Russia next year, providing us with promising signs of things to come for the future of this wonderful sport.