Friday 28 July 2017

Iceland's 'small mentality' propels them to England showdown

Iceland 2 Austria 1

Iceland's Aron Gunnarsson celebrates after the match. Photo: Darren Staples/Reuters
Iceland's Aron Gunnarsson celebrates after the match. Photo: Darren Staples/Reuters

Paul Hayward

Churchgoers in Iceland screamed when their team scored against Hungary earlier in the tournament and "literally ran out of the church" at the end of the service, according to the vicar. Imagine the disruption to religious order if Euro 2016's smallest country knock England out in Nice on Monday.

Iceland is the Land of the Rising Sson and England had better beware.

Iceland's Arnor Ingvi Traustason celebrates with Birkir Bjarnason after scoring the second goal. Photo: Darren Staples/Reuters
Iceland's Arnor Ingvi Traustason celebrates with Birkir Bjarnason after scoring the second goal. Photo: Darren Staples/Reuters

A stunning breakaway goal by substitute Arnor Ingvi Traustason spared Roy Hodgson's side a second-round tie with Cristiano Ronaldo and captured Europe's heart.

England's fans will outnumber Iceland's supporters on the French Riviera but neutrals across the world will be willing this country of 330,000 souls to march on to the quarter-finals.

The team with the "small mentality", as Ronaldo called them, travel to Nice with big hopes. After 1-1 draws with Portugal and Hungary, they opened the scoring in the 18th minute through Jon Bodvarsson, came under a prolonged Austrian siege that led to Alessandro Schopf's solo equaliser, and then snatched all three points when Theodor Elmar Bjarnason broke away and crossed the ball for Traustason to score the winner.

Naturally, the Iceland bench emptied as players and staff flooded the pitch. England probably also allowed themselves a jig around the room.

Iceland's Arnor Ingvi Traustason scores the second goal. Photo: Charles Platiau/Reuters
Iceland's Arnor Ingvi Traustason scores the second goal. Photo: Charles Platiau/Reuters

Iceland are no pushover but they a considerably less daunting foe than Portugal, who were in second place in Group B until Iceland turned the picture upside down.

In Reykjavik they claim Icelanders spent 0.1 per cent of the country's GDP on tickets for Euro 2016. They bought 27,000 in all. And 0.007 per cent of the population made the Iceland squad for this championship.

Kari Arnason, the man of the match in a game that sent Austria home, said: "Ten thousand people from Iceland in the crowd - it's unbelievable. It's like having your family at the game. I think I know 50 per cent of the people at the games - or at least recognise them."

Joint coach Heimir Hallgrimsson said: "I'm not afraid of the England match. My players now know how much fun it is to win, how good it is to get to the last 16 at the first time of trying. We always knew the next opponent was going to be difficult. It's the form of the day that matters in the last 16.

"Everyone who watched will know how much it meant to us. We were willing to sacrifice everything for the win. There were a lot of tired legs in the end."

Good stories will fill the next few days. Here is one. Hannes Halldorsson, the goalkeeper, left the game for a time and found himself directing the video for Iceland's entry in the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest - a song called Never Forget, which finished 20th. He must be glad he came back to football. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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