Before 2016, you probably didn’t know they had a national football team. You thought that they were one of these teams that have a decorative place in the Qualifiers and their only use is for other teams to score a lot of goals. Until 2016, where an island of a 300,000 population went to Euros, and they succeeded.
Iceland’s story is very interesting for any football lover, as a nation without any football history managed to build a decent squad with some well-known players and qualify for their first tournament ever.
It all started at late 90s, when the depression and lack of outdoor activities led to a rise in alcohol and tobacco consumption, especially in young people. The government decided the best way to tackle the problem was building 15 indoor football stadia, safe from the extreme weather conditions. The years passed and some rich Icelandic donated money to build more pitches.
Today, there are 20 real stadia, 20 outside with an artificial pitches and more than a hundred smaller ones, where the kids can play. Consequently, players are now not only able to survive in extreme conditions, but they also know how to play football well. Some notable players of this generation are Alfred Finnbogason, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Emil Hallfredsson.
However, it wasn’t only for the stadia that Iceland became a football nation. The 2008 financial crisis nearly destroyed the country; many unemployed people sought new careers in football. Now, every manager – no matter at what level he is coaching – is required to have a UEFA B Licence, meaning that they have decent education in football and may have a potential career. Their motto is that ‘no talent should be lost’, so every child until the age of 18 is welcomed in local clubs to play football.
In 2013, the Iceland national team was beaten in a knock-out match by Croatia. They learned their lesson and they easily qualified for Euro 2016, where they managed to beat England in an unforgettable match, before future runner-ups France beat them 5-2.
This summer, they will face their toughest challenge as they will play in Russia’s World Cup. Fans are so excited that 66,000 people (about 20% of the population) wants to travel to Russia to support their team. Iceland is an example of dedication and love for the sport.