It was the moment we’ve all been waiting for. At a press conference today at the Icelandic Football Association (KSÍ) headquarters, Heimir Hallgrímsson—dentist and manager of Iceland’s national football team—announced the final 23-player raiding party that will soon set sail for Iceland’s first ever foray into the FIFA World Cup.
It was with some relief that the assembled media saw the names of Iceland’s injured star players Aron Einar Gunnarsson and Gylfi Sigurðsson flash up on the screen. They were joined by most of the familiar faces that formed the spine of the team at the Euro 2016 tournament, and some players who’ve been edging their way into Heimir’s considerations with impressive cameo appearances.
The announced squad is as follows.
Hannes Þór Halldórsson, Randers
Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson, Nordsjælland
Frederik Schram, Roskilde
Kári Árnason, Aberdeen
Ragnar Sigurðsson, Rostov
Birkir Már Sævarsson, Valur
Ari Freyr Skúlason, Lokeren
Sverrir Ingi Ingason, Rostov
Hörður Björgvin Magnússon, Bristol
Hólmar Örn Eyjólfsson, Levski Sofia
Samúel Kári Friðjónsson, Vålerenga
Gylfi Þór Sigurðsson, Everton
Aron Einar Gunnarsson, Cardiff
Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson, Burnley
Emil Hallfreðsson, Udinese
Birkir Bjarnason, Aston Villa
Arnór Ingvi Traustason, Malmö
Ólafur Ingi Skúlason, Karabukspor
Rúrik Gíslason, Sandhausen
Alfreð Finnbogason, Augsburg
Jón Daði Böðvarsson, Reading
Björn Bergmann Sigurðarson, Rostov
Albert Guðmundsson, PSV
Heimir and his assistant Helgi Kolviðsson said that even though it was difficult to leave some of the players out of the line up, they’d “joyfully agreed” on the final selection. The players who didn’t get picked received a message this morning, whereas the chosen ones were notified an hour before the announcement. This was decided in agreement with the players.
Eyebrows were raised at the exclusion of seasoned striker Kolbeinn Sigþórsson. Kolbeinn is Iceland’s second-highest goalscorer of all time (after Eiður Guðjohnsen) with 22 goals to his name, including strikes against England and France in the knockout stages of Euro 2016. However, Kolbeinn has been sidelined through injury since late 2016, and with no guarantee of him recovering in time for Russia, he was confined to the reserves list.
The twenty-year-old striker Albert Guðmundsson made the cut in his place. Heimir praised Albert’s strength, stamina, and flexibility, saying he’s one to watch in the Iceland national team’s future, and that even if he gets few playing minutes, the tournament experience will be of immense use to the youngster.
Controversy surrounded the choice of two young goalkeepers—Frederik Schram and Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson—instead of the more experienced Ögmundur Kristinsson and Ingvar Jónsson. “We all agreed on this after the USA trip,” said Heimir. Guðmundur Hreiðarsson, the team’s goalkeeping coach, said that they would have liked to take all five goalkeepers—but FIFA wouldn’t allow that. First-choice keeper Hannes Halldórsson is now 34 years of age, so perhaps bringing through a new generation of keepers was playing on the manager’s mind.
Heimir also explained that multi-position flexibility was a factor in his final choices. Players such as Rúrik Gíslason, Kári Árnason and Albert Guðmundsson can play in several positions, meaning they can bolster the squad should any first team players have to withdraw.
The fitness of team captain Aron Einar Gunnarsson and star midfielder Gylfi Þór Sigurðsson came up, of course. Although both currently remain sidelined through injury, Heimir said that both are recovering well. Gylfi is back in training, and Heimir related that he’s in daily contact with Aron, who was positive during their last call. Aron is currently recuperating from a knee operation, and will see top world specialists in Qatar to aid his recovery before rejoining the team on May 30th.
Heimir finished by explaining that the team will train in Iceland and play their final pre-tournament friendlies (Norway on June 2nd, and Ghana on June 7th), before heading to Russia on June 9th to settle in, undergo final preparations, and enjoy the atmosphere.
“The tournament will be difficult,” he said, “but if we win two group games, we won’t fear any opponent after that.”
Read more about Iceland’s inevitable World Cup-winning destiny here.