As you may have noticed, something big is going on in the world of Icelandic football this summer. Since the foundation of the Icelandic Football Association in 1947, the men’s national team has never once equalled their female counterparts’ achievement of qualifying for the finals of a major tournament.
But now, after a decades-long effort to improve the Icelandic game, the (almost) four-generation losing streak is over, and the men’s team have qualified for the finals of Euro 2016 in France. We asked some Icelandic football insiders to explain: why now?
Eiður Smári Guðjohnsen, Iceland’s leading all-time goalscorer
“The majority of the players in the current national team are… I hesitate to use the phrase, but you could say they’re a golden generation. They’re the first Icelandic players to make the Under-21 European Championship finals. They’ve been together for a long time. They’re also the first generation coming through since Iceland got indoor pitches—they’ve been ready to play abroad younger, and gather that experience. And they also have an experienced manager in Lars Lagarbäck. It’s the combination we’ve been waiting for.”
Pétur Marteinsson, former Iceland defender
“Our current national team is not just a fluke—it’s been a ride. Back in 1998, Gylfi and Kolbeinn and the rest of the national team were eight, nine, ten years old. They saw Iceland play France after they’d just won the World Cup, and draw 1-1, and they thought: ‘We can do this.’ Even those playing in ‘98 had their role models—Ásgeir Sigvinsson, who was one of the best players in Europe, and Arnór Guðjohnsen, who was a really good international player. When I was little I thought, ‘These guys are heroes! I would love to be like them!’ And today, hopefully we’re seeing the result.”
Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir, Icelandic women’s team captain
“It’s nothing new to us women players that people focus on the men’s game, so we’re kind of over that! But as women’s football continually improves, the women’s game today is getting more attention than ever. Our nation is very impressive in sports, given its size. It’s amazing what Lars Lagerbäck has done with the men’s team. It’s good for the whole country. And the women’s team have already been to the Euros twice. I think it’s fascinating how far Iceland has come as a sporting nation, and how far we can go.”
Sigurbjörn Örn “Bjossi” Hreiðarsson, Valur Assistant Coach[/caption] Örn “Bjossi” Hreiðarsson, Valur coach
“The Icelandic season is short. In the old days, the winter limited training, but young Icelandic players can now train indoors all year. They have football in their blood. We are ambitious here in Iceland. We take our football seriously.”