Iceland, the land with a greater number of active volcanoes than footballers, the land with a population lesser than that of Mumbai’s Dadar railway station during rush hour, the smallest country geographically to qualify for the Euros of 2016, have made it to the quarter finals stage of the tournament. And they have done so with a manager who is a part-time dentist, a goalkeeper who is a former film director, and a captain who plays for a team that finished 28th in the English league.
When Daniel Sturridge’s header went wide for England in that final chance of that game on last Tuesday, a continent gleamed in excitement over the achievement of a largely inconsequential football nation. The world took notice of the Nordic country of Iceland, and players like Birkir Bjarnason, Aron Gunnarsson and co. became heroes overnight. Suddenly, the world began to take notice, and the smallest country to qualify for the Euros became the biggest topic of discussion for football enthusiasts globally.
The dedication, commitment and passion of the Icelandic players is definitely unparalleled, considering most of them play for little known clubs in countries not primarily known for their footballing heritage. Many of these players might now manage to get big money moves to more eminent clubs now owing to their meteoric rise in the Euros, with defender Ragnar Sigurdsson reportedly now being on the radar for Leicester city and Tottenham.
While you can take nothing away from the footballers and their amazing achievement, credit must be given for the travelling Icelandic fans. A reported 10% of Iceland’s population is in France to cheer for the Euros, and they haven’t been shy in expressing their passion and zeal for their fellow countrymen. The supporters, fondly called as ‘Tolfan’ or the ‘the twelve’ in reference to the 12th man on the field have well and truly been an uplifting force for the Icelandic team. Be it the iconic Viking clap chant or the overenthusiastic commentator, the Nordic nation has well and truly made their presence felt in France.
On the other hand, hosts France would be keen to make the home advantage count and seal their place in the semifinals. Hugo Llrois and co. would be keen to send the giant killers of the tournament Iceland packing back to Reykjavik. An Antoine Griezmann inspired performance saw the French come from behind to beat a trick Ireland side in the round of 16, and coach Didier Deschamps will be keen to build on the recent run of good performances with star performers like Griezmann and Pogba finally living up to their mantle.
France undoubtedly start as favorites, owing to the vastly more experienced squads and big name players, and add to that the home support. However, Iceland are weaving a story for the history books for themselves, and the next chapter could well and truly be beating the mighty hosts in their very own backyard in the most challenging of circumstances. They have surprised the world right from qualification stage when they managed a double over The Netherlands, and have followed that up with impressive momentous wins against Austria and England, and an evenly fought draw against Portugal. Hosts France could be the next in line.
On Sunday night, after that first ball has been kicked at the Stade de France, a stadium’s hopes and support would undoubtedly go France’s way, but the world’s hopes are surely pinned on Iceland to give shape to the greatest underdog story ever told.