Lighting up the Euros 2016 – Iceland, the Tournament Underdogs
2nd February 2017. By Danni Biggs
Iceland, a country of just 329,000 people, produced some spectacular memorable moments during the 2016 European Championships, which were captured worldwide by millions of people.
Being the smallest nation to have qualified for the Euros, not only did Iceland make their mark on the tournament by reaching the quarter-finals but also brought their army of fans. For each of Iceland’s game the stadiums were indeed flooded with Icelandic supporters, who performed to the world their spectacular Viking chant.
The inspirational journey of Iceland in 2016 definitely became one of the most popular talking points throughout the European Championships. Beating clubs such as England and Austria and even drawing against the Euro champions Portugal Iceland definitely made their first appearance at the Euros one to remember and left many fans around the world proud to be an Icelandic supporter.
Iceland: Their European Championship Journey
Iceland’s road to the Euros started in the year 2014 in September when they started their qualifying campaign against Turkey. The Icelandic players weren’t quite sure what to make of their group at first. Skipper and centre back with 47 caps; Kari Arnason says “When we saw the draw of the group we were in, we knew it was going to be tough, we didn’t qualify from a lot easier group for the World Cup, and so it wasn’t really positive for us – although you always believe.” However, this was just a beginning.
Iceland left their nation of 330,000 stunned not to mention the 75 million Turks, as the Icelanders childhood dream suddenly became reality when on the 78th minute, striker Kolbeinn Sigthorsson struck the back of the net after taking advantage of their breakaway, giving the Nordics a staggering 3-0 lead. They went on to win 6 out of the 10 qualifying games, meaning they gained their first qualification of a major tournament; making them the smallest country to do so.
June 2016, the European Championship began. Iceland was placed in group F, with teams Portugal, Hungary and Austria. Remarkably, Iceland was undefeated in the group stages and they even managed to grab a draw against the Euro champions, Portugal!
Onto the round of 16, knock out stage against England. As many of you are probably aware the England men were left humiliated, with the Iceland squad and fans jubilant with their 2-1 victory! This knock out game was an historic result for the mighty Icelanders; we were then left with the most iconic image of the Euros 2016. The Icelandic men remained on the pitch to lead their triumphant fans in what was called an ‘intimidating’ and ‘terrifying’ chant, which left fans in the stands as well as in front of TV’s fascinated! Both the squad and fans clapped and shouted in unison, starting off slowly and gradually building up the pace until a massive wall of noise is heard.
Quarter-finals against tournament hosts France saw the Iceland side eventually knocked out after suffering a 5-2 defeat. However, Iceland took this as a win as it was an outstanding result for the side considering it was their first participation of a major tournament. After the stunning performance at the European championships Iceland had a ranking position of 21, their highest ever ranking!
Will Iceland Manage to Qualify Again?
The World championships are fast approaching and will be taking place in Russia in 2018. Iceland is currently undertaking qualifying rounds in group I, with teams Croatia, Turkey, Kosovo, Finland and Ukraine. Already, after 4 games played Iceland are comfortably in third place on the table, and as of yet has only been defeated once, which was by Croatia.
With still another 6 games to go to determine their qualification Icelandic fans are confident that Iceland is set to make it their second qualification of a major tournament.
Heimir Hallgrimsson is the manager of Iceland since appointed in 2013 and also a dentist! Yes, you heard it right. Throughout Heimir’s playing career, which lasted from 1996 until 2007 he also served as a dentist for his home village. Heimir’s dental career still remained as a part-time profession even throughout being assistant manager, up until 2016 where he took sole reign over the Icelandic national team after their success at the European championships.
Heimir and his squad are now known as legends in the eyes of many Icelanders, even Hallgrimsson said himself that the Iceland national team are now legends just like England after the 1966 World Cup. When Iceland returned back to their home country huge numbers of fans were lined in the streets, where at Arnarholl, thousands more was there waiting. The team received an overwhelming reception by the fans that were filled with joy and pride, and also included speeches from their prime minister and president, described as heart softening