Can Iceland build upon England heroics to enjoy shock Euro 2016 reign?
Lee Gormley | June 29, 2016
Can Iceland emulate Denmark and Leicester?
After what was a season for the underdog, with Leicester City achieving a remarkable Premier League triumph, international minnows Iceland are enjoying their own stunning path towards shock glory at Euro 2016 in France.
The Nordic nation that has a population of around 323k, sprung one of the surprises of the tournament when overcoming Roy Hodgson’s lacklustre England in the last 16, setting up a quarter-final showdown with host country France on Sunday night.
Iceland’s 2-1 victory over the Three Lions resulted in Hodgson’s resigning from his post as manager and a flurry of mass criticism over the underwhelming performances on French soil, but nothing can be taken away from the underdogs’ gallant displays across the Channel.
Guided by co-manager Heimir Hallgrimsson, who combines his coaching role alongside Lars Lagerback with his job as a dentist, the Nordic nation are enjoying Leicester-esque showings and are now 40/1 with Coral to clinch a historic success this summer.
Nordic nation face tough test against hosts
Iceland are still seen as the big outsiders just behind Chris Coleman’s Welsh outfit, who must contest with an in-form Belgium next in their respective quarter-final clash but, having began the finals at 500/1 their latest price proves the true size of the former’s valiant efforts.
Next up for them is a tough test against Didier Deschamps’ Les Bleus in the suburbs of Paris, which Iceland are 17/2 to cause another upset by prevailing from in normal time, but they will need to assert themselves efficiently once more.
France will take to the capital with plenty of confidence after dispatching the Republic of Ireland in their last 16 encounter and are unlikely to make the same mistake of overlooking Iceland as England did, as they set their sights on rallying to success in their own backyard.
Although, the Nordic nation proved right from the start of their campaign that they can mix it with the big boys, thanks to such a tightly knitted roster of players willing to battle for one another, and will hold no fear when colliding with the highly-fancied French side.
Iceland to emulate Denmark’s 1992 success?
Iceland may not boast any superstar names within their squad, though the likes of Welsh-based duo Gylfi Sigurdsson (Swansea) and Aron Gunnarsson (Cardiff) are high-profile names from the English leagues, but their incredible team spirit and passionate support is helping them enjoy a superb campaign.
The size of their task may look beyond reach, but nobody expected them to arrive at the quarter-final stage on the back of a win over England and without a single defeat from Group F, which featured supposed giants Portugal.
Cristiano Ronaldo was the first to feel the frustration from being held by a gritty Iceland roster, outlining his displeasure in the wake of his nation’s opening 1-1 draw, before the minnows also rallied to the same result against Hungary and later overcame Austria.
Having achieved so much already, with their incredible story starting way back in qualifying when stunningly dispatching the Netherlands twice to help stop them from reaching France, Iceland can also take inspiration the 1992 Denmark that obtained a shock success.
In the 1992 edition of the European Championship, the Danes shockingly downed then reigning champions the Netherlands in the semi-finals before toppling a seemingly dominant West Germany, clinching their first and only major honour to date.
Iceland heroes “changing lives”
Iceland’s togetherness and team solidity has so far earned them a host of plaudits and many new fans across the continent, and their co-coach Hallgrimsson has hailed his impressive side ahead of their next battle with France.
“If you want the best out of life you have to be ready when the opportunity comes,” said Hallgrimsson, who will take sole charge of the national team after the Euros.
“That is a fact and these boys were ready [against England] and this opportunity that was put in our hand was huge, it can change their lives.
“We are optimistic. Some Icelanders maybe think we are too optimistic, that we don’t think we can fail, but we have a game plan [for France].”
Iceland’s story on French soil is truly remarkable, with Euro 2016 being their first ever major international tournament appearance. They recorded both home and away wins over the Dutch to get there too, a previous glimpse into what was in store for their fans at the finals.
As well as this, they are officially the smallest ever nation to qualify for a major tournament, and their incredible story could yet continue beyond Sunday if recent results are anything to go by in what has been an admirable campaign.