The unfriendlies have been fought, the team photos snapped, the axes honed, and the longboats landed. Our boys are in Russia, ready for their first ever World Cup appearance. They horde are more bloodthirsty than ever and intent on establishing a footballing empire to last a thousand years.
They enter the tournament in petrifying shape, with Gylfi Sigurðsson back from injury, Alfreð Finnbogason amongst the goals, captain Aron Gunnarsson nearing fitness, and several warriors-in-waiting set on staking their claim for a place on the front line.
The five goals sacrificed to Óðinn in the games against Norway and Ghana have ensured that the omens are on their side, and that seven battles from now the roars of over 350,000 Icelanders and millions more neutrals will reverberate around the globe. But how exactly will coach Heimir Hallgrímsson’s plan for world domination unfold?
During Aron’s injury absence, “The Darth Dentist” reverted back to the 4-4-2 formation that proved so successful at Euro 2016, but discovered that it didn’t provide the defensive stability he would have liked against Norway and Ghana. He’ll be desperate to have his captain back for the Group D opener against Argentina, given how easily exposed his side were on the counter-attack in those games.
That being the case, 4-5-1 is the likeliest shape of the team, with Gylfi providing support to the lone striker and dropping back into midfield when The Headless Norsemen don’t have the ball. All of Iceland’s Group D opponents are ball-playing sides, which will allow our boys to deploy their favoured snatch-and-grab gameplan.
While the team’s work-rate off the ball and rigid defensive shape will be essential frustration tactics, they will also need a pressure-releasing out-ball. In the absence of injured target man Kolbeinn Sigþórsson, whoever starts up top will have to put in a selfless shift, hold the ball up well to bring attack-minded players into the game.
Kári Arnason’s proactive defending style will help Heimir’s men get onto the front foot, and his aggression will invade the psyches of faint-hearted forwards. Aron’s presence and drive as the beating heart of the team is a necessity, while Gylfi and Jóhann Berg will be charged with breaching opposition backlines. Birkir’s attacking ambushes could also be critical in Russia, and Alfreð Finnbogason’s marksmanship will add potency.
The key question here is: Will Aron be fit to play? “The Annihilator” has Viking blood coursing through his veins, and would play for for Iceland on his stump, should a leg be sliced clean off. Expect the Iceland team doctors to pump him full of red meat and mead and for him to lead the boys out against Argentina at the Spartak Stadium.
Which warriors-in-waiting could muscle in?
In defence, Ragnar Sigurðsson was shaky in both of the recent friendlies, but it seems unlikely that Heimir would unsettle the established rearguard at this stage. Should he play poorly against Argentina, though, Sverrir Ingi Ingason could steal a march on his Rostov clubmate. Hólmar Örn Eyjólfsson also impressed at right-back against Ghana and has given usual shoo-in Birkir Már Sævarsson something to think about.
In midfield, Emil Hallfreðsson is a likely starter, but Rúrik Gíslason could provide Heimir with more attacking flair within the robust 4-5-1 structure. His direct runs earned a penalty against Norway and caused problems for Ghana, and his inclusion would allow Birkir to move into a central role. Against Nigeria in particular, a more mobile midfield will be necessary, and Rúrik’s selection would offer just that.
As far as attackers, Jón Daði Böðvarsson’s athleticism and tenacity could see him start as Heimir’s attacking spearhead, but he hasn’t scored an international goal since Euro 2016, and struggled to make an impact in the warm-up unfriendlies. Alfreð, on the other hand, has two goals in his last two games and would be extremely unfortunate not to start.
How will the horde line up?
Hannes Þór Halldórsson, Randers
Hörður Björgvin Magnússon, Bristol
Kári Árnason, Aberdeen
Ragnar Sigurðsson, Rostov
Birkir Már Sævarsson, Valur
Emil Hallfreðsson, Udinese
Aron Einar Gunnarsson, Cardiff
Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson, Burnley
Birkir Bjarnason, Aston Villa
Gylfi Þór Sigurðsson, Everton
Alfreð Finnbogason, Augsburg
Sverrir Ingi Ingason, Rostov
Hólmar Örn Eyjólfsson, Levski Sofia
Ari Freyr Skúlason, Lokeren
Rúrik Gíslason, Sandhausen
Jón Daði Böðvarsson, Reading
Björn Bergmann Sigurðarson, Rostov