Iceland topped their group which was no small achievement considering Croatia were the strong favourites.
Iceland World Cup Fixtures, Squad, Group, Guide
Iceland vs Argentina (16th June)
Playing in their first World Cup, can Iceland manage to stop the offensive class of Argentina? – Match preview here.
Iceland Starting XI: 1 Hannes Halldorsson, 2 Birkir Saevarsson, 6 Ragnar Sigurdsson, 7 Johann Gudmundsson (19 Rurik Gislason 64), 8 Birkir Bjarnason, 10 Gylfi Sigurdsson, 11 Alfred Finnbogason (9 Bjorn Sigurdarson 89), 17 Aaron Gunnarsson (23 Ari Skulason 76), 14 Karl Arnason, 18 Hordor Magnusson, 20 Emil Hallfredsson
Argentina Starting XI: 23 Willy Caballero, 3 Nicolas Tagliafico, 5 Lucas Biglia (7 Ever Banega 54), 13 Maximiliano Meza (9 Gonzalo Higuain 84), 14 Javier Mascherano, 10 Lionel Messi, 11 Angel Di Maria (22 Cristian Pavon 75), 16 Marcos Rojo, 17 Nicolas Otamendi, 18 Eduardo Salvio, 19 Sergio Aguero
Argentina 1 Iceland 1
Argentina: Aguero 19
Iceland: Finnbogason 23
Argentina’s opening game ended in frustration after being held by a disciplined Iceland side playing their first ever World Cup match. Lionel Messi was denied the winner by Iceland keeper Hannes Halldorsson, who saved a second-half penalty and was the anchor of an Iceland defence that resisted a wave of Argentina attacks.
Man of the match
Iceland’s keeper Hannes Halldorsson saved a Lionel Messi penalty and kept his team in the game when saving from from Cristian Pavon late in the game.
Matter of fact
Argentina’s goal was Sergio Aguero’s first World Cup goal.
The clash of styles was highlighted by the pass accuracyy stats. Argentina completed 92 per cent of their passes, compared to only 67 per cent for Iceland. Argentina also enjoyed the vast majority of possession (72 per cent) but Lionel Messi frequently found himself crowded out by two or three Iceland defenders.
Possession (%): 72/28
Goal attempts: 26/9
Attempts on target: 9/5
Pass accuracy (%): 92/67
Distance covered (km): 101/105
Iceland World Cup Guide
Amazingly, Iceland reached the 2018 World Cup finals as winners of their group. They are by far the smallest nation ever to qualify and – at a mere 339,000 – the first with a population under a million. The team were a bit rusty at first, following an amazing run at their first major tournament at Euro 2016, where they were unbeaten until losing in the quarter-finals to hosts France. The players grew in strength and, against all odds, won seven of their 10 games, including all of their home games.
Key Moments in Qualifying
A lucky 3-2 win over Finland with two goals in injury time, including a disputed winner.
Strangely, a 1-0 loss to Finland in Tampere, with three more games to play, is crucial. The players realise they have probably become complacent and, following the defeat, they go back to basics.
A fantastic 3-0 win away to Turkey puts Iceland on top of the group again, as Croatia draw at home against Finland the same night.
Playing hosts to Kosovo, and with their fate in their own hands, they break down their resilient guests just before half-time, adding a second goal after the interval.
Iceland World Cup Group
Iceland World Cup Friendlies
In January of 2018, Iceland dismantled Indonesia 4-1, to get the year off to winning ways. But they then lost three matches in a row against Mexico, Peru and Norway. In their final game, they got a draw against Ghana.
- 14th January – Indonesia (won 4-1)
- 24th March – Mexico (lost 3-0)
- 28th March – Peru (lost 3-1)
- 2nd June – Norway (lost 3-2)
- 7th June – Ghana (drew 2-2)
Iceland World Cup Fixtures
Related: Ivan Rakitic November 2007
Heimir Hallgrimsson, age 50 (10.06.67)
A qualified dentist who still runs a clinic in his native Westmann Islands, he was appointed assistant to Lars Lagerback, when the Icelandic Football Federation hired the Swede as national coach in 2011. Shortly after failing to qualify for the 2014 World Cup, Hallgrimsson and Lagerback signed contracts as joint managers, and when the Swede called it a day after Euro 2016, Hallgrimsson became the sole boss.
Although having a very quiet start to his Everton career, midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson was top scorer during the World Cup qualifying campaign.
Captain Aron Einar Gunnarsson is the heart of the Iceland team, with Sigurdsson being the brain. Gunnarsson’s never-say-die attitude is crucial, pulling the strings in midfield and allowing Sigurdsson time and space to attack. Centre-backs Ragnar Sigurdsson and Kari Arnason are an important pairing, with keeper Hannes Halldorsson another essential piece in the puzzle.
Forward Kolbeinn Sigthorsson has hardly played since Euro 2016, having sustained a knee injury in September 2016, but he hopes to return to action before the end of 2017.
Iceland World Cup Squad
Final 23-man squad –
GOALKEEPERS: Hannes Thor Halldorsson (Randers FC), Runar Alex Runarsson (FC Nordsjælland), Frederik Schram (FC Roskilde).
DEFENDERS: Kari Arnason (Aberdeen), Ari Freyr Skulason (K.S.C. Lokeren Oost-Vlaanderen), Birkir Mar Saevarsson (Hammarby), Sverrir Ingi Ingason (FC Rostov), Hordur Magnusson (Bristol City), Holmar Orn Eyjolfsson (Maccabi Haifa), Ragnar Sigurdsson (FC Rostov).
MIDFIELDERS: Johann Berg Gudmundsson (Burnley), Birkir Bjarnason (Aston Villa), Arnor Ingvi Traustason (Malmo FF), Emil Hallfredsson (Udinese), Gylfi Sigurdsson (Everton), Olafur Ingi Skulason (Kardemir Karabukspor), Rurik Gislason (FC Nurnberg), Samuel Fridjonsson (Valerenga), Aron Gunnarsson (Cardiff City).
FORWARDS: Alfred Finnbogason (FC Augsburg), Bjorn Bergmann Sigurdarson (FC Rostov), Jon Dadi Bodvarsson (Reading), Albert Gudmundsson (PSV Eindhoven).
Iceland World Cup Injuries
Iceland’s best player Gylfi Sigurdsson suffered a serious knee injury whilst playing for Everton. He is in a race against time to be fit for the tournament.
The Unanswered Questions
How can such a small nation qualify for the World Cup?
The recent generation of players is strong, both physically and mentally. All of them playing professionally abroad, although few are with big teams in strong leagues.
How have Iceland climbed the FIFA ranking list so quickly?
The transition can be traced back 15 years to when the country started building indoor football arenas. Before then, adverse weather conditions meant players could not train properly during the winter. Another reason is a high standard of coaches.
Has Iceland got enough strength in depth if key players get injured?
If important players such as captain Gunnarsson or Gylfi Sigurdsson are not available, their replacements would not be of the same quality even though Iceland has a pretty strong squad of 20 to 25 players. Recent friendlies suggest that, at this moment in time, others are not ready to step up.
Will Heimir Hallgrimsson stick to his tried and tested 4-4-2 formation?
Iceland usually play 4-4-2 but during the qualifiers they sometimes used a 4-5-1 set-up, with Sigurdsson in the hole behind a lone striker. In a recent friendly they even experimented with three centre-backs in a five-man defensive line – which could be used at times in the summer.
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