Ísland / Iceland
- Capital: Reykjavík
- Official Languages: Icelandic
- Nicknames: Strákarnir okkar (Our Boys); Stelpurnar okkar (Our Girls)
- Association: Knattspyrnusamband Íslands (KSÍ)
- FIFA Code: ISL
- Best World Cup Result (Men): Group Stage (2018)
- Best World Cup Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Best Euros Result (Men): Quarter Finals (2016)
- Best Euros Result (Women): Quarter Finals (2013)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Men): 18th (February-March 2018)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Women): 15th (September 2011)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Men): 131st (April-June 2012)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Women): 22nd (September 2018)
- Most Capped Player: Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir – 136 caps [as of Jan 2021]
- Top Scorer: Margrét Lára Viðarsdóttir – 79 goals
The Nordic island country of Iceland, situated at UEFA’s farthest northwestern outskirts has for the majority of its history been one of the ‘minnows’ of European football. Often producing solid professionals, the national teams had not had much success on the international stage. That all changed when early in the 21st century, the KSí made significant changes to its coaching structure and huge investment in its football facilities, as well as bringing in experienced manager Lars Lagerbäck to oversee the men’s national team. What resulted was a rapid improvement in the national teams’ fortunes as Iceland’s ‘golden generation‘ came to the forefront resulting in the minnow becoming one of the most talented sides in international football. The women’s side became the first side to qualify for a major tournament when they reached the 2009 European Championship, and have since reached the next two European Championships and are scheduled to play in the forthcoming 2022 Euros. Whilst the men’s national team just missed out on qualification for the 2014 World Cup in the playoffs, but finally qualified for their first major senior tournament by reaching the 2016 European Championships, where they lit up the tournament with their spirited performances as well as their passionate supporters, complete with the ‘thunderclap’, to reach the quarter-finals of the competition.
The Icelandic side would progress on their 2016 heroics by progressing to the 2018 World Cup, becoming the smallest country (in terms of population) to ever reach the grand tournament. Placed in a fierce group with Argentina, Nigeria and Croatia, the Icelanders gave a gritty performances but were unable to progress out of the group, however achieved a historic 1-1 draw with Argentina. Sadly the side have failed to reach the upcoming 2021 European Championship, losing in the qualification playoff final 1-2 to Hungary, seemingly concluding the successful era of Iceland’s golden generation. The next few years are all set to be very interesting for the island nation as they transition from the previous generation to their new generation of players.
To talk about one of the more interesting international sides in European football, who seem to be coming to the end of their ‘golden generation’ era, we interviewed the brilliant Marc Boal from Icelandic Football UK. Marc is the UK Coordinator for Þróttur Reykjavík Football Club, as well as being a respected writer on the Icelandic domestic football scene and the National Team. He is also scheduled to release a brand new book about Icelandic football titled ‘Sixty-Four Degrees North‘ in the New Year, which can be bought from him personally also and looks a fantastic read. To find his social media accounts, follow the links below:
- Marc’s Twitter: @marcboal
Talking about Iceland’s women’s national side is one of the country’s most passionate supporters, Hilmar Jökull. Big Glacier is massive fan of both the men’s and women’s teams, and is the best person to ask questions about Iceland’s ever-improving women’s national team. To find his social media accounts, they can be found below:
- Hilmar’s Twitter: @HilmarJokull
Key: MB = Marc Boal; HJ = Hilmar Jökull
Q. Who would you say is your country’s best player and coach/manager of all-time, and the reasonings behind the choices?
MB: Iceland has produced some fantastic players over the years. With regards to the best player, that’s a tough call – Siggi Jónsson could have been world class, but he was plagued by injuries, particularly after the horror challenge that Graeme Souness put on Siggi during a World Cup Qualifier. However, it’s hard to see past Eiður Guðjohnsen as the best Icelandic player ever.
The combination of Heimir Hallgrímsson and Lars Lagerbäck, who led Iceland to their first major tournament after years, are without shadow of doubt, are the best managers.
HJ: Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir is the only player ever to reach the highest standard of world football so I’d say she’s the obvious answer to this question. Having said that we also have two other players who are regarded to be allowed in the talk and their names are Margrét Lára Viðarsdóttir and Ásthildur Helgadóttir. Ásthildur was just very unlucky to be in her prime before the dawn of women’s football but she and Margrét Lára had every bit of talent that Sara Björk had, just not the same opportunities.
Elísabet Gunnarsdóttir (Beta) is in a league of her own regarding the women managers but Freyr Alexandersson took the national team to two consecutive European Championships so he’s the most successful national team coach.
Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ in terms of the national team both in the past and present?
HJ: Sif Atladóttir is the cult hero. Not only just regarded but fully admitted, non-disputed cult hero.
MB: That’s a difficult one – Hermann Hreiðarsson’s name comes to mind, he had a fighting spirit on the pitch which fans loved, he came across as a down to earth, no nonsense player.
Q. Of the current team, who would you say is the best player from Iceland currently?
MB: Gylfi Sigurðsson on form, is a very dangerous player. He had a poor season with Everton, but always seemed to produce the goods at national level.
HJ: Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir, you know, the woman who’s been winning all the accolades she can for this year. She also probably got both silver and gold medal in last years UEFA Champions League, as she helped Wolfsburg reach the final and then scored for Lyon in the final after she’d made the move to the French team mid-season.
Q. How would you describe the current state/performance of the national team?
HJ: Very good actually! We have been bringing up younger players through the last years and the future is bright ahead of us. There have been many Icelandic players transferring from the Pepsi Max-league (Iceland’s top division) to bigger clubs around Europe during this winter and the recruitment in the national team has been working fine. We’re going to the Euros, for the fourth time in a row, which is nice.
MB: Iceland has an aging squad; they are in the process of rebuilding the team. It could take a few years for the Iceland team to gel, to see another resurgence at international level.
Q. Are there any Icelandic players who you think we should be focusing on for the future – who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent from the country?
MB: The U21’s have qualified for the 2021 U21 European Championships, there is an abundance of talent in the squad who will make the jump to the national team in the coming years, watch out for – Valgeir Valgeirsson (currently on loan at Brentford from HK), Ísak Bergmann Jóhannesson (at IFK Norrköping), Finnur Tómas Pálmason (at KR Reykjavík).
HJ: Sveindís Jane Jónsdóttir, Alexandra Jóhannsdóttir and Karólína Lea Vilhjálmsdóttir. Those girls are born in 2000 and 2001 and all just made big transfers from Iceland to Europe after a great season in the Pepsi Max-league which concluded for them by winning the national title with Breiðablik.
Q. Looking at Iceland’s international history, what would you say has been the best game, result or performance for the national team in your opinion?
HJ: I’d say that the 3-2 win against Germany, in Germany, on the 20th of October in 2017 was the biggest victory when considering that the team that we faced have been a top nation, both at World Cups and European Championships, for a long time.
MB: The qualifying group for Italia 1990 was pivotal. Iceland were used to being on the wrong end of heavy defeats. Although Iceland finished bottom of their group, they had made tremendous progress and managed to hold the eventual group winners, USSR, to draws both home and away.
Beating England 2-1 at the 2016 Euros is without question, the best result in the history of Icelandic football. Defeating Croatia 1-0 at Laugardalsvöllur on route to qualifying for the 2018 World Cup was also a massive result.
Q. Likewise, is there a performance or result which is regarded as the team’s lowest point?
MB: The lowest point would probably be the UEFA Nations League/European Championships qualification play-off final defeat against Hungary in 2020, there was so much hope that Iceland would qualify for their third major tournament. The lowest point was a 14-2 thrashing at the hands of Denmark in 1967 is still frowned upon by many Icelanders.
HJ: Nah, I’m a fan, I don’t focus on the negatives, I like to stay positive.
Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the Icelandic national team?
HJ: The same thing actually. Just being emotionally invested in a football team sometimes can have it downsides when the team has bad losses but the other side of that coin is when the team wins, we have a hell of a party!
MB: Fans have had a taste of the big time going to major tournaments, the expectations at national level are now huge, however, fans have got keep things in perspective. It is difficult for any small nation to keep that kind of momentum going. The squad from 2012-20 was the ‘golden generation‘, many have now retired from international duty or in the twilight of their careers, it’s the turn of the next generation to reshape the Icelandic football legacy.
Q. Have the fans adopted some kind of unofficial anthem to sing along to before/during/after matches?
MB: ‘Ég er kominn heim‘ is a big favourite with the fans. It is sung at all international matches, it’s Iceland’s unofficial anthem.
HJ: Yes. The song “Ég er kominn heim” (I’ve arrived home) is the unofficial football national team song for both the men’s and women’s team. The song is basically just about the beauty of the country, the end of the journey and that it’s always good to come back home to Iceland.
Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the whole time of the national team?
HJ: I’d say that the 2016-2017 shirt was my favorite one as it has given me my best memories with the national team.
MB: I have quite a few Icelandic shirts that have been given to me over the years. I would say the Erreá shirt Iceland wore at the 2018 World Cup was one of the best shirts they have made.
Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of the Icelandic national team?
MB: It’s going to take a while as I said in one of your earlier questions. It could take another 3-4 years for Iceland to get a settled squad, which by that time will be a mixture of experience, sprinkled with the players coming in from the U19 and U21 squads.
HJ: I just hope that the girls will manage to qualify for a World Cup tournament, sooner rather than later. The bar has been set, it’s just up to them to bring the team and the nation an arrival at a World Cup
A massive Þakka þér fyrir to Marc from the superb Icelandic Football UK for answering our questions on strákarnir okkar, and Hilmar for answering the questions on stelpurnar okkar. Remember you can find their excellent accounts in the links at the top of the blogpage.
If you have any comments, suggestions, reactions, or even your own answers to the above questions, please write them in the comments box below. Likewise, you can either email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or send a message at @The94thMin on Twitter.