Iceland topped their group which was no small achievement considering Croatia were the strong favourites.
Iceland World Cup Fixtures, Squad, Group, 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.
Related: World Cup Stadiums
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
- 14th January – Indonesia (won 4-1)
- 24th March – Mexico (lost 3-0)
- 28th March – Peru (lost 3-1)
- 2nd June – Norway
Related: World Cup Friendlies
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
Preliminary World Cup Squad –
Goalkeepers – Hannes Halldorsson, Runar Runarsson, Frederik Schram
Defenders – Karl Arnason, Holmar Orn Eyjolfsson, Jon Fjoluson, Sverrir Ingi Ingson, Hordur Magnusson, Birkir Saevarsson, Ragnar Sigurdsson, Ari Skulason
Forwards – Jon Dadi Bodvarsson, Alfred Finnbogason, Albert Gudmundsson, Bjorn Bergmann Sigudarson
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.
Related: World Cup TV Schedule
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.
Related: World Cup Fixtures
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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