Iceland is the qualification group I winner in the European qualification. In difficult fight of four equal national teams, Iceland could outplay Ukraine, Turkey and Croatia at the finish, and could secure its berth at the World Cup for the first time ever.
The Iceland national football team is an excellent example how competent approach to football developed in a small country turns the national team from a “football dwarf” into a strong enough player of world football. Iceland began its participation in qualifications since 1958, however, for many years the team`s challenge was just collecting points to take at least the penultimate position. The World Cup 1994 qualification was the most successful for the northerners. Then the Icelanders managed to outplay the Luxembourg and Hungary national football teams and to take the third place.
The picture changed considerably in the mid-nineties. The Government of Iceland adopted the comprehensive programme to develop popular sport in the country. Within a few years eight large covered arenas were built in Iceland which resulted in the fact that today 12% of the population play football. Besides nation health beneficial effect, this programme also brought serious progress in professional sport.
In the Euro 2012 qualification Iceland played as usually, lost six of eight matches and took the penultimate place in the group. In 2013 the Swedish-Icelandic duet of coaches Lars Lagerbäck and Heimir Hallgrimsson gets to work with the national team, and their job will bring the tremendous result.
In the World Cup 2014 qualifying Iceland gets in the same group with the Norway, Switzerland, Slovenia, Albania and Cyprus national football teams. On the one hand, the northerners were lucky –there was no grandee in the group. On the other hand, three teams considered themselves as contenders for a trip to Brazil. As a result, the Vikings could forge ahead of both Norway and Slovenia, and, for the first time ever, take the second place in the group. To get to the World Cup in Brazil, Iceland needed to beat the Croatia national football team in the play-off. Unfortunately, the northerners lacked experience, and they did not manage.
But already two years later Iceland could fulfil their dream and surprise the whole world. In the qualifying round for the Euro 2016, teams had to take one of the two first positions in the group to get in the final. The Icelanders coped with this task brilliantly, they outplayed the Turkey and the Netherlands national football teams. For the first time ever, the Iceland team took part in the main continental tournament. It wasn’t quite the end of miracles. In the Euro 2016 Iceland appeared in the same group with the teams of Hungary, Austria and Portugal. Before the tournament start, Austria and Portugal were expected to surely take the first two places in the group while the Magyars and Icelanders would fight for the third place. However, it happened that the modest Vikings lost no one game in the group stage and left for the playoff from the second place in the group.
In the round of last 16 Iceland had to meet with England — one of the basic favorites of the Euro. And again, the Vikings struck all experts. Having missed a penalty at the beginning, the Icelanders, thanks to the goals of Sigurdsson and Sigtorsson, already by the 18th minute were winning against the British. The British couldn’t recover from such a shock until the end of the match, rather Iceland had more chances to increase their domination than the British to recoup. The Icelandic fairy tale ended only in the quarterfinal when Heimir Hallgrimsson’s players were simply destroyed by the powerful French national football team, 2:5. Nevertheless, getting into the eight strongest in the European Championship became a great achievement for small Iceland, and the players came back as the national heroes.
The Vikings didn’t wish to get satisfied with what they had already achieved. In the qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia, Iceland got into the hard equal group and was uncontrollable. Having won in the group 7 of 10 matches, the northerners surely secured their berth at the second large tournament in a row which allowed the team to rise into the 25 top world teams.
It is extremely difficult to estimate chances of Iceland in the 2018 FIFA World Cup. We will assume that the Vikings won’t be able to resist equally to the leading world teams, but they can quite achieve success with the second echelon teams. Anyway, Hallgrimsson`s team will feel free and will be able to enjoy playing — the Icelanders have already run their main mission.