All You Need To Know About Iceland NT Ahead of FIFA World Cup in Russia
9th October 2017, a historic day for Iceland as they had qualified for the FIFA World Cup for the very first time in their existence. Iceland, the smallest nation by population has achieved this feat for the very first time defying all odds and with limited resources.
Iceland was under the guidance of Heimir Hallgrímsson who was a former Icelandic football manager as well as a Dentist. After the team had failed to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Heimir had been appointed as the team’s full-time manager. Under his guidance, the team had qualified for the 2016 UEFA Euro Cup, where they had beaten the Netherlands in the home and away in the qualification stage where Iceland finished in 6th position along with Italy and Belgium.
Iceland is grouped along with Argentina, Croatia and Nigeria in Group-D in Russia.
● Squad Analysis:
Hannes Þór Halldórsson who has been playing for Randers FC will be the first choice as well as the regular shot-stopper in the XI. He was the one who ruined the dream of Netherlands in 2016 UEFA Euro Cup and is also having a 6 clean sheet out of last 14 matches he played. He was the one who was responsible for the successful run of Iceland in 2016 Euro, with his shot stopping skills the team had finished 2nd in the group stage by winning against Austria and levelling the match against Hungary and Portugal. In the Round of 16 he conceded only the penalty gosl by Wayne Rooney in the 4th minute after that the team had rebounded and won the game by giving send off to the 1966 FIFA Champions. In the quarter-final, he had failed to stop the shots of France and got knocked out of the tournament. From 2011 he was the part of the team and he is also having some good and bad experience that will pay off Iceland for their further run in upcoming FIFA WC. Although there are other goalies in the squad but Hannes is by far the favourite to stand beneath the bar.
○ Defence :
Sævarsson the left back playing for Valur had been highly praised for his stamina, pace and ability to contribute to the attacking play from his wing-back position. He is the one who had controlled Ronaldo during the group stage match against Portugal in 2016 Euro, and that results in a draw. Árnason the Centre back who has been with the Iceland national team for past the 13 years and played for more than 10 clubs and has scored 23 goals is a veteran upon whom much will be depending. In the 2016 Euro his contribution was more on levelling the match against Hungary and Portugal, with his assist Iceland had won against Austria and booked a place in the Round of 16. Sigurðsson the other centre-back who was playing in Russian Premier League for Rostov had enough experience about Russia and the conditions there. In 2016 Euro he had scored against England and was named as Man of the match. Skúlason will be deployed as the right back who plays for Lokeren in Belgium althougb his most common position is in central midfield and he can also play as a winger but has been playing as a fullback for quite some time.
○ Midfield :
Guðmundsson, the young player from Iceland is playing as a winger for Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven in Eredivisie. Recently he had scored in the unofficial friendly against Indonesia. Gunnarsson will be the skipper of Iceland whose playing position is centre-midfield. Under his leadership, the team had ended the 2016 Euro in the quarterfinals and he also scored 2 goals for the teams 2016 Euro qualification. Gylfi Sigurðsson the attacking midfielder who plays in premier league side Everton, the only Iceland player who had spend his last 6 years in Premier League. His best moment with Iceland was the goals which he scored against Netherlands in both the home and away fixtures in the 2016 Euro qualifying stage. Further he had scored against Portugal, Albania, Cyprus, Turkey, Hungary and Ukraine. Bjarnason, the left winger from Aston Villa has a bag full of talents and will be giving hope to the team in the critical conditions. His goals against Portugal had drawn the match and his another goal against Turkey had made the team book a place in this WC.
Sigþórsson, among all the members in the squad, stands on top with 22 goals out of 44 appearances. He was also a part of Ajax where he clinched the Eredivisie thrice and the Cruyff Shield once. Finnbogason, the FC Augsburg striker who was famous for his long run goal has scored in all the matches of the 2018 FIFA world cup qualifying round.
Besides these players Jónsson, Gíslason, Kjartansson are also integral part of the squad and will shine if they are given an opportunity to feature in the playing XI.
● Probable XI and Formation:
Hannes Þór Halldórsson (GK)
Birkir Már Sævarsson
Ari Freyr Skúlason
Aron Gunnarsson (C)
● Team Rating:
○Overall Rating : 6.5/10
● Fixtures :
○16 june 2018- Argentina VS Iceland (Otkritie Arena, Moscow)
○22 june 2018- Nigeria VS Iceland (Volgograd Arena, Volgograd)
○26 June 2018- Iceland VS Croatia (Rostov Arena, Rostov-on-Don)
● Past Record :
This is going to be Iceland’s maiden appearance in the FIFA World Cup. The big tournament that Iceland has last featured was the 2016 Euro Cup where they finished in 6th place.
● Recent Form :
Iceland’s run to the World Cup was good and the team has been in a good shape. After the FIFA qualifiers the team had played 6 friendly matches where it has won two and drawn one. Still the team has scheduled 2 more friendlies against Norway and Ghana before the World Cup which will give them a proper idea regarding their strength. If the plans start clicking the players gel well as they did in 2016 Euro, some prominent ‘Viking Chants’ will surely be heard across Russia.
● Coach/Manager’s Quotes:
Hallgrímsson stated that “When you think about the World Cup, you think about Argentina and Brazil, so it’s a little bit of a romantic feeling to play Argentina in the first game”.
“We know a lot about Croatia,” Hallgrimsson said. “They have been the kind of hurdle that we have needed to step to achieve something. Obviously, we know less about Nigeria, but we know their past history, so it’s another tough opponent.”
● Writer’s Take:
This is going to be the 1st World Cup where Iceland would feature and in the very first match they will face the South American power-house Argentina! A tough game to start the tournament but any way if all goes write they can pull out a draw with Argentina which should not be considered a surprise by any means. Iceland had already played against Croatia and had won the game, so there they would be having some positive approach on the way facing them. To play against Nigeria, the team had planned a friendly against Ghana as part of it’s preparation. It will be a important match to them to know how the players from Africa will play and thus would help them to strategize against Nigeria.
My prediction is that Iceland can finish 3rd or 4th in Group-D. Anything above that will be considered as an over-achievement.