As Iceland prepare to face Latvia on Friday night, can they start looking forward to a first appearance at a major final?
The word ‘Iceland’ is a surprisingly divisive one.
Depending on your financial security it may be a potential family holiday destination or your first port of call for the frozen food shopping. It might conjure up images of Kerry Katona or you might instead think of everyone’s favourite sexy Eskimo Bjork. Horsemeat is considered a delicacy in the country, whereas in the supermarket it was recently revealed as the secret ingredient to a tasty beef lasagne.
What you probably don’t automatically think of is football. Although chances are if you’re reading this article then you might. And if that’s the case then you will no doubt be delighted that next week heralds the return of international football.
In Iceland’s case this means continuing a 2016 European Championships qualification campaign which, after one game, sees them sitting top of Group A following their 3-0 win over Turkey last month – a result which England, pre-Switzerland, would have been pretty chuffed about and a pretty sizeable achievement for a country with a population that is only three quarters the size of the city of Bristol.
The Eskimos (as they, alas, aren’t called) will now travel first to Latvia before hosting a Netherlands side who lost their opening Euro 2016 qualifying game when a woeful attempt at a back header by Newcastle’s Daryl Janmaat gifted the Czech Republic a 90th minute winner and caused Dutch coach Guus Hiddink to say there was no point in debating formations when his defenders play so naively.
Hiddink remains something of a demi-God in South Korea following his success with their national team in 2002, the aftermath of which saw him receive honorary citizenship and a stadium named after him. His second stint in charge of his own country’s national team hasn’t gone as well so far, the Dutch have played two and err… lost them both.
Iceland is perhaps most famous for have a naming system where every male surname is the forename of their father with the suffix –son, a system not entirely unlike the auto-destruct sequence in Star Trek in ensuring two generations worth of consent before anyone can call their child Son Sonson (the closest Icelandic equivalent to a ‘Neville Neville’).
They have never have qualified for a major international tournament in their history, although they came mightily close to bucking that trend on the road to Brazil 2014, missing out on qualification only after a second leg playoff defeat to Croatia.
Should Iceland beat Latvia on Friday and then manage to get anything out of their home game on Monday against Hiddink’s misfiring Dutch team then they would be on course to qualify for Euro 2016.
Iceland’s ‘sons’ stand on the brink of history.
By James Cook