Football is war. So if one of Iceland’s perfect eleven should accidentally lose a leg or a head (other than Aron Einar, who would play on regardless), we might need some young reinforcements to send into the fray. Introducing: the stripling warlords Heimir selected as the Guardians of the Bench.
Name: Frederik “Notsson” Schram
Hometown: Dragør, Denmark
Club: FC Roskilde
Special Skills: Defending the bench, being mysterious, elastic arms
Nicknames: “Notsson,” “The Dane,” “The Demon of Dragør”
Not be confused with his namesake—an American paleontologist and founder of the “Crustacean Issues” journal—Danish-Icelandic substitute keeper Frederik Schram is the Iceland squad’s only “Notsson.” He has been Iceland’s chief bench-defender since 2015, bravely acting as the rearguard while half-man-half-giant Hannes Halldórsson takes care of the on-pitch heroics. He has made five senior appearances for Iceland, all in “unfriendly” matches. The 6’6” “Demon of Dragør” will be hoping to break into the side should Hannes “Wild Claws” falter or fall.
Name: Rúnar Alex “The Snow Leopard” Rúnarsson
Club: FC Nordsjælland
Special Skills: Point-blank saves, feline reactions, telepathic anticipation, selflessness
Nicknames: “The Snow Leopard,” “The Soothsayer,” “The Martyr”
Making up 33.3% of the “Guardians of Iceland” triumvirate, Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson is to his defence what crampons are to the pedestrians of Reykjavík. The son of Iceland legend and record appearance holder Rúnar Kristinsson, Rúnar Junior is a modern-breed goalkeeper, comfortable both with the ball at his feet, and the opposition forwards’ self-esteem in his pocket. Most importantly, though—as any international manager will tell you about goalkeeping reinforcements—“The Snow Leopard” is a good lad. Whispers from the Iceland World Cup camp have suggested that Rúnar is so selfless he has been throwing games of FIFA to senior players, in the hope of enhancing the group’s winning mentality.
Defenders of the Realm
Name: Sverrir Ingi “The Kneecapper” Ingason
Position: Centre back
Special Skills: Immoveable objectness, stoney stares, nuclear tackles
Nicknames: “The Future King of Kópavogur,” “The Kneecapper”
Sverrir Ingi Ingason has been playing football since the age of four. He started out proper via the Breiðablik youth system—a gruelling war camp that has produced seasoned champions like Gylfi Sigurðsson, Alfreð Finnbogason and Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson. A former captain of the Iceland U21 youth side, “The Kneecapper” has his eyes on ascending the pecking order should Iceland’s ageing central shield-wall pairing of old warhorse Kári Arnason (35) and Ragnar Sigurðsson (31) start to wobble.
Name: Ari Freyr “The Unforgiven” Skúlason
Position: Left-back/Central Midfielder
Special Skills: Pinpoint crosses, plundering overlaps, trophy taking
Nicknames: “The Jötunn Slayer,” “The Homuncular Hangman,” “The Unforgiven”
What Ari Freyr Skúlason lacks in height, he makes up for in sheer, unadulterated psychopathy. In fact, Ari’s capacity for empathy is so impaired that he has been ordered by every club he has ever played for to train barefoot as a safety precaution. Fortunately for him, this does not prevent biting and he has already taken 23 “trophies.” The attacking full-back’s thirst for the blood of his enemies is even more insatiable; supposedly he only left hometown club Valur for Swedish outfit BK Häcken in 2006 because he thought it was a Viking-inspired paramilitary group and left as soon as he realised they were a normal football team.
Name: Hólmar Örn “The Butcher” Eyjólfsson
Club: Levski Sofia
Position: Centre Back
Special Skills: Towering headers, no-nonsense clearances, as tall as Hallgrímskirkja, dishonesty despising
Nicknames: “Ol’ Bloody Hands,” “The Butcher,” “The Anachronist”
The highlights reel of Hólmar Örn Eyjólfsson career certainly isn’t for the Guardiolistas of this world, but it will have your grandad salivating; well, it would do, if he could operate a computer. “The Butcher” is a proper old-fashioned defender, hoofing the ball straight into Row Z and asking questions later. His father is current Iceland under-21 coach Eyjólfur Sverrisson and it seems he hand-picked his son’s features to make him into the ideal defender. Hólmar’s faintly bulbous head, for example, is perfect for nodding aerial balls out of harm’s way and his shovel-shaped legs have often been called upon to dig his Viking brethren out of trouble.
Name: Samúel Kári “The Hammer” Friðjónsson
Position: Defensive Midfielder/Utility Player
Special Skills: Positionally unchainable, monster throw-ins, long-range missiles
Nicknames: “The Hammer,” “The Reykjanesbaer Ballista,” “The Liquid Lacerator”
“Friðjónsson can hit them from here,” Guy Mowbray will say, preemptively, as Sammi lines up a 35-yard piledriver against the Croats on June 26th at the Rostov arena, his eyes fixated on the valve of the Telstar ball as the stadium inhales collectively. “And boy, has he hit it! Friðjónsson’s effort has sailed past the despairing Subašić to make it Iceland one, Croatia nil, in the dying seconds of this Group D decider. What a time to score your first international goal!” Mark Lawrenson, turning mischievously to Mowbray, will say “that really is Samsational,” as “The Reykjanesbaer Ballista” wheels away, thumping his bare chest, bellowing “DEATH OR GLORY!”
Name: Arnór Ingvi “The Viking Horse” Traustason
Club: Malmö FF
Position: MidfielderSpecial Skills: Dramatic flair, lightning fast breaks, 94th minute stunners
Nicknames: “The Viking Horse,” “The Journeyman,” “The Malmö Maimer”
Arnór Ingi Traustason has a few tricks up his sleeve. As well being a stout defender, he’s fast on the break, and clinical in front of goal. This Trojan trickery makes him an impact sub for Iceland, and earned him the nickname “The Viking Horse.” Arnór went from relative unknown to national hero at Euro 2016 when he came off the bench to smash in an all-important goal against Austria. The dramatic 94th minute winner is the stuff of legend: it was the goal that sent Iceland into the knockout stages, and it made a star of commentator Gummi Ben, who lost his shit in a euphoric, borderline-nonsensical victory monologue. At the World Cup, “The Malmö Maimer” will be hoping for a chance to strike again, cementing his place in Iceland’s footballing history.
Name: Ólafur Ingi “The Shaman” Skúlason
Position: Defensive MidfielderSpecial Skills: Spell-casting, taking two eyes for an eye, blood-vessel-bursting concentration
Nicknames: “The Vengeful,” “The Shaman,” “The Leveller”
Ólafur Ingi Skúlason recently completed his lifelong ambition to avenge the Turkish Abductions of 1627 by condemning former sides Gençlerbirliği and Karabükspor to the deepest pits of footballing hell. Ólafur’s destiny, though, is not quite fulfilled and at the height of his powers, “The Shaman” is already muttering maledictions in preparation for Iceland’s World Cup opener against Argentina. I mean, you didn’t think Sergio Romero and Kun Agüero’s injury woes were a mere twist of fate, did you?
Name: Rúrik “The Siren” Gíslason
Club: SV Sandhausen
Position: Right Winger/Forward
Special Skills: Darting runs, silky step-overs, alluring gazes, personal grooming
Nicknames: “The Enchanter,” “The Siren,” “The Second Wonder of Iceland”
Rúrik Gíslason’s pearly blue eyes flicker like aurora borealis, his cheekbones protruding just enough to create a mysterious shadow beneath them. Drawn in by his irises’ wondrous depth, you are mesmerised; a warm, euphoric sensation washes over you and you are content for the first time in years. Your partner leaving you and taking the kids is now a mere afterthought; your crippling debt erased from memory. It is then, at this moment of utter satisfaction, that Aron “The Annihilator” Gunnarsson guts you with a spear, looting all of your prized possessions. Yes, even your nearly-completed Panini sticker book.
Name: Albert “The Prince of Darkness” Guðmundsson
Club: PSV Eindhoven/Jong PSV
Position: Attacking midfielder
Special skills: Dazzling dribbles, icey finishing, peerless lineage
Nicknames: “The Prince of Darkness,” “The Carnivorous Craftsman,” “The Head Exploder”
Albert Guðmundsson is Icelandic footballing royalty. The son of legendarily rabid Icelandic commentator Gummi Ben and former Iceland women’s team international Kristbjörg Ingadóttir, grandson of famed striker Ingi Björn Albertsson, and great-grandson of Iceland’s first ever pro footballer—his namesake, Albert Gudmundsson— “The Prince of Darkness” was destined for greatness from the moment of conception. In fact, he already plays for two teams, and boasts an international goals-to-games ratio superior to both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Name: Björn Bergmann “The Axe of Akranes” Sigurðarson
Club: FC Rostov
Position: Centre Forward
Special Skills: Paralysis-inducing interplay, breathtaking intelligence, booby-trapping
Nicknames: “The Icemann,” “The Baby-Faced Bastard,” “The Axe of Akranes”
Björn Bergmann Sigurðarson is our boys’ answer to Novichok; a deadly disabler of defences, intent on inflicting a level of suffering that’s beyond the pale. At the World Cup, his victims are unlikely to enjoy the good fortune of Sergei Skripal, especially if he can rekindle his scorching form for Norwegian side Molde, where he scored 17 goals in 30 games in 2016-17. Murmurs out of the Nigeria camp suggest “The Super Eagles” are running scared and centre-back Will Troost-Ekong has already colluded with some Russians on how best to fake his own murder before his side meets Iceland in Volgograd.