Icelandic football has gone through massive changes in recent years. The game in the Nordic country has developed immensely, as they prepare for their first ever World Cup this summer.
Iceland qualified for their ever major tournament when they made it to Euro 2016. They were not there to just make up the numbers neither, as surprisingly they beat England 2-1 in the last-16 of the competition, only to exit at the quarter-final stage against hosts France.
In France, they turned into the popular team of the neutral. This summer they could be about to upset the applecart once again.
Qualified for Russia 2018 against the odds
In terms of qualifying, Iceland, as they do, did it against all odds. Heimar Halgrimsson’s side topped their group ahead of the highly-rated Croatia, Turkey and Ukraine.
In qualifying for the World Cup, the Nordic nation became the smallest based on population to grace the world’s biggest football international competition. After their performances at Euro 2016, they will be keen to do more than just participate in Russia this summer.
Gylfi Sigurdsson still the pivotal player
Iceland have a very similar squad of players to two years ago in France. A number of players ply their trade in England, including the likes of Johan Berg Gudmundsson and Aron Gunnarsson.
However, the pivotal player for the Nordic team is Everton playmaker Gylfi Sigurdsson. The former Swansea star is regarded as the most talented player that the country has produced in a long time.
For a long time, he was a crucial player at Swansea, helping to keep the Welsh side in the top-flight. However, a £45million move to Everton has produced mixed results.
Sigurdsson struggled to adapt to life on Merseyside. However, just as he hit form, he sustained an injury, which has kept him sidelined since March. It was at first feared that Iceland’s star would miss the World Cup.
However, the attacking midfielder was named in the 23-man squad. He has recently revealed his determination to play in their first game of the World Cup on 16th June against South American giants Argentina.
If the 28-year-old shines, then there is no doubt that Iceland are a far better team. His intelligence, ability to produce something from nothing and of course his set-piece abilities make him a potent weapon for any team.
Iceland could make the knockout stages
In fact, Iceland beat Croatia 1-0 in their last meeting, which proved pivotal in the Nordic side finishing ahead of the Croats in qualifying. The qualifying victory will give them confidence heading to Russia.
Nigeria are a young team and could be outstanding or woeful, as they are unpredictable.
In many ways, getting the game against Argentina out of the way could be the key to Iceland making the knockout stages. If they can grind a result out against the South American giants then they will fancy their chances of qualification.
Even if they suffer defeat, they could still qualify for the last 16 with positive results against their other two group rivals.
Iceland shocked the world at Euro 2016. They have the determination and spirit to do it again this summer in Russia. However, if they do make it to the knockout stages it may not be such a surprise after their Euro 2016 exploits.
Can Iceland make the last 16 at the World Cup?