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Profile of the Iceland national team - by Johann Sigurdsson

Angelo PalmeriComment

For the Iceland national team we bring you Johann Sigurdsson, MA in Sport Journalism student at the Sheffield University who has his heart in his home country as he covers Icelandic football in English at Sportbloggid with a special emphasis on the national team.

We warmly suggest to read this piece from Johann if you want to understand what is behind the success of Iceland in football in the very recent years.


The national team today is the best one that Iceland has had in its history and the results over the last 3 years clearly show that.

Iceland has been historically a very average - below average team. That is not a huge surprise as the country is very small, with only about 320.000 inhabitants.

There have only been a few times in its football history that the team has been reasonably close to qualification for a major tournament, often than not ending near the bottom of their groups.

That changed dramatically before the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign started. Iceland appointed a new manager, Lars Lagerback, who has overseen a major turn in results. Assisting him is Heimir Hallgrimsson, but they are now co-managing the side, with Hallgrimsson taking over from the Swede after Euro 2016.

In its first qualifying campaign under the experienced Lagerback, Iceland managed to qualify for the Playoffs for a major tournament for the first time in its history. There they met Croatia. After a solid 0-0 in the first leg at home, they succumbed to a 2-0 defeat in Croatia. 

 

NEW QUALIFYING CAMPAIGN, SAME SOLID DISPLAY

The team has started this qualifying campaign in the same manner as they ended the previous one. Drawn in a tough group with the Netherlands, Turkey, Czech Republic, Latvia and Kazakhstan it has defied the odds and sits in second place after five games.

Wins over the Netherlands and Turkey are clearly the high points to date. Both were reasonably solid wins and both at home, 3-0 against Turkey and 2-0 against the Netherlands. 3-0 away wins against Latvia and Kazakhstan and a 1-2 loss in the Czech Republic rounding up their games so far.

LAGERBACK'S 4-4-2

Since Lagerback took charge of the team, Iceland has always played a 4-4-2 formation.

This has meant that the team utilises its depth in the midfield and attack.

A great example of its depth up front is the fact that Alfred Finnbogason has not yet been in the starting lineup during these four games and Vidar Kjartansson, who set the Norwegian Tippeligaen on fire last season before being sold to Jiangsu Guoxin-Sainty in China.

In midfield, Iceland can call upon its best player, Gylfi Sigurdsson. He has had a great season at Swansea and is a constant threat, especially from set pieces (last minute news: he is injured and won't play against Estonia - see tweet on the right hand side.). Johann Berg Gudmundsson, left-winger, has been playing brilliantly with Charlton Athletic and is capable of anything. 

Eidur Smari Gudjohnsen returned to the fold against Kazakhstan on Friday after having retired from international football after the loss against Croatia in the playoffs for the 2014 World Cup. His return was a happy one as he opened the scoring for Iceland in the first half. That was his first goal for the national team in a little over 5 years, his last one coming against Norway on 5 September 2009. He has been in great form for Bolton Wanderers after joining them at the start of December. His performance against Kazakhstan was great and his vast experience will help the team in their challenge for a spot in France next summer.

Two players have already been allowed to return to their club sides. Aron Gunnarsson, Iceland’s captain, has returned home to Cardiff to meet his newborn baby for the first time. The same Eidur Gudjohnsen has also gone back to England as he is expecting a baby of his own. 

Olafur Ingi Skulason (Zulte Waregem, BEL) has been called up as a replacement.

Lagerback said after the game that more players could still be called up as a few received knocks in the game in Kazakhstan. Gudmundur Thorarinsson (FC Nordsjælland, DEN) is another midfielder who will be a likely addition.

It’s difficult to say how Iceland will line up against Estonia.

Fringe players will surely get playing time to try to cement a place in the starting lineup against the Czech Republic in June. While wholesale changes are probably not expected from the start the expectations is that Lagerback and Hallgrimsson will use their substitutions to the fullest. 

by Johann Sigurdsson

Birkir Bjarnason is a regular at Pescara (Italian Serie B) counting also on a sting at Sampdoria. 

Birkir Bjarnason is a regular at Pescara (Italian Serie B) counting also on a sting at Sampdoria. 

Two players have already been allowed to return to their club sides. Aron Gunnarsson, Iceland’s captain, has returned home to Cardiff to meet his newborn baby for the first time. The same Eidur Gudjohnsen has also gone back to England as he is expecting a baby of his own. 

Olafur Ingi Skulason (Zulte Waregem, BEL) has been called up as a replacement.

Lagerback said after the game that more players could still be called up as a few received knocks in the game in Kazakhstan. Gudmundur Thorarinsson (FC Nordsjælland, DEN) is another midfielder who will be a likely addition.

It’s difficult to say how Iceland will line up against Estonia.

Fringe players will surely get playing time to try to cement a place in the starting lineup against the Czech Republic in June. While wholesale changes are probably not expected from the start the expectations is that Lagerback and Hallgrimsson will use their substitutions to the fullest. 

by Johann Sigurdsson