Iceland – Fire On Ice
In the top-left corner of the European Map, on the edge of the Artic Circle, is Iceland. Its raw climate has created a football culture that produces scores of talented players. Perhaps the football-mad Icelanders will soon see their biggest dream come true: that of taking part in a major tournament.
Iceiand, September 2007: driving rain, gusting wind and a chilly eight degrees. Freezing and soaked to the skin, Spain’s football elite scurry into the bowels of the Laugardalsvollur Stadium in Reykjavik, while Iceland coach Jolly Sverrisson and his players fall into each others’ arms on the pitch and take the plaudits for an unexpected 1-1 draw against the more fancied visitors. Four days later, a raiher more fortunate 2-1 home win over a Northern Ireland side who are decidedly hardier than the neatly turned-out Spaniards sees Iceland climb to 80-th place in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. Coach Sverrisson and his team of foreign-based professionals are rhe nation’s darlings.
Yet just one month later, following embarrassing defeats against Latvia (4-2) and Liechtenstein (3-0), the beautiful dream is over and Sverrisson’s days as national coach are numbered. For the football-loving people of Iceland, international matches are almost a matter of national pride. Ihey will forgive their heroes for the odd defeat against superior opposition, but the ignominy of losing to Liechtenstein, for example, is unacceptable. Just one player of the calibre of Barcelona’s Eidur Cmdjohnsen is patently not enough to compete on the international stage, even if the Icelandic minnows are always good for an upset or two against the top teams.
Yet Iceland is anything hut a developing nation in footballing terms. Asgeir Sigurvinsson, Atli Kdvaldsson and Jolly Sverrisson all made a name for themseKes in the German Butidesliga, for example, and the influx of players of Icelandic origin into the leagues of Scandinavia, England- Scotland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Spain has gone largely unnoticed. Ihe reservoir of good players in a country that has just 310,000 in habitants seems inexhaustible. “‘Measured in population terms, Iceland does indeed have a very rich vein of talent compared with other countries,” says Yidir Sigurdsson. A sports journalist for more than 25 years, Sigurdsson has an impeccable knowledge of Icelandic foorhall. “Not all oi them are exceptional talents such as Edvaldsson, Sigurvinsson, Sverrisson or, to name a current player, Gudjohnsen. It’s the depth oi quality that makes the difference.”