Iceland won the hearts and minds of the fans at Euro 2016, their first ever appearance at a major tournament, where they went unbeaten all the way to the quarterfinals before losing to the hosts France. On the back of that unbelievable campaign, they had a rusty start to their World Cup qualifiers, however, the team grew in confidence and strength, and surpassed all odds by ending up winners of their group, beating Croatia and winning 7 of their 10 games. With a population of around 340,000, they are the smallest nation to ever qualify for a World Cup finals, and indeed are the only nation to qualify that have a population of under a million. Regardless of this small population, there is no doubt that Iceland can expect a momentously enthusiastic support in Russia this summer.
Iceland will face Argentina, Nigeria and Croatia in their World Cup group, and should be going into the competition with confidence, as they have a real chance of making the second round. Argentina are not as strong as they seem, and if Messi can be dealt with, then I would expect an Icelandic victory. Nigeria have a good balance of pace and strength and should be approached cautiously, yet Iceland have already beaten Croatia during qualifying, and are capable of doing it again.
- Gylfi Sigurdsson (Everton) – Sigurdsson is the brain of the Icelandic team, and was instrumental in their success during qualifying, finishing as their top scorer. Technically gifted on the ball, it is Sigurdsson’s vision and innate ability to spot opportunities that others cannot which make him such a difficult player to play against. Unfortunately, having suffered a serious knee injury recently while playing for his club Everton, Sigurdsson is in a race to be fit for the finals in the summer.
- Aron Einar Gunnarsson (Cardiff City) – If Sigurdsson is the brain of the Icelandic team, then 28-year-old captain Gunnarsson is its beating heart. The midfielder pulls the strings in the middle of the park and controls the game, while allowing Sigurdsson the time and space to exploit opposition defences. The most valuable aspect of Gunnarsson’s game, however, is his never-say-die attitude; his passion for the game and his country is more than capable of rousing his teammates when the going gets tough.
Heimir Hallgrimsson – The 50-year-old Hallgrimsson, a qualified dentist who still runs a practice in his native Westmann Islands, assumed the sole control of the national team when joint-coach Lars Lagerback departed after Euro 2016. Although Iceland have good squad depth, Hallgrimsson knows that he does not have another player of the quality of Sigurdsson or Gunnarsson to replace them, should they become unavailable. To compensate for this, he has experimented with various formations during the qualifiers, which will give him alternative game plans to utilise in the summer.