Merely qualifing for Euro 2016 is a momumental achievement for the tiny Nordic nation called Iceland. To say, however, that the Strakarnir Okkar will be only making up the numbers is to underestimate the quality of football they are capable of producing – particularly if their qualifying efforts are anything to go by.
In what was a tough qualifying group Iceland was impressive, finishing second having won six matches, drawn two and lost two.
The way in which they earned their spot in the tournament was emphatic. A tight, disciplined defensive shape, coupled with their attacking prowess, a goal difference of +11 was achieved, after they scored 17 and conceded a miserly six goals in their 10 games.
Importantly, Lagerback and Hallgrimsson’s men got off to a flawless start, dispatching a 10-man Turkey 3-0 at home, before brushing aside group strugglers Latvia by the same scoreline.
In what was arguably their two most significant victories, the Statkarnir Okkar defeated the highly fancied Netherlands 2-0 in Reykjavik, and 1-0 in Amsterdam, largely responsible for the Oranje’s failure to qualify for France. Gylfi Sigurdsson terrorised the Dutch on both occasions, scoring all three goals in both fixtures.
In short, Iceland has no tournament history to draw upon, which makes their appearance all the more exciting. Co-manager Lars Lagerback has, however, significant tournament history with his native Sweden, having participated in Euro 2000, 2004 and 2008.
Despite possessing the likes of Sigurdsson and Kolbeinn Sigthorsson in attack, it is their shape and discipline in defence that is their strength.
As mentioned, the team only conceded six goals in their qualification campaign. This is despite usually having the lesser share of possession, with the exception of games against Latvia and Kazakhstan. By contrast, 17 goals also highlight the team’s goal-scoring prowess, indicating that the setup is very well-rounded.
In Sigurdsson, they possess a genuine star. He is lethal from dead-ball situations in particular and will create plenty of chances when given time on the ball.
As to be expected from a nation of Iceland’s size, they lack depth in true star quality. In some ways, the lack of egos and team unity means a cohesive, team-oriented squad. On the other hand, they lack a deep squad which may cause issues should they lose the any of the likes of Sigurdsson, Sigthorsson and captain Aron Gunnarsson.
Playmaker Sigurdsson is largely tasked with propelling the team into the latter stages of the tournament. Should he be unavailable to play, Iceland will struggle to find the back of the net.
Being tournament debutants also poses a potential issue, with a lack of experience perhaps leaving the squad wanting on the big stage.
Predicted finish – Round of 16
Iceland has drawn a group that they will be confident in progressing out of into the knockout phase of the tournament. They will play Austria, Hungary and Portugal in Group F and will be by no means out of their depth.
Although underdogs and an apparent lightweight, it should be of no great surprise if the Statkarnir Okkar reach the knockout rounds of the tournament in their first attempt.