Yes! With a goalless draw against Kazakhstan earlier tonight, the Icelandic men’s national football team made history, qualifying for the 2016 UEFA European Championship. Yup, the dudes are going Euro – for the first time ever (note, as some of our readers have pointed out: “HELLO THE WOMEN’S TEAM HAS BEEN TO THE EURO TWICE ALREADY WTF!” As ardent supporters of the women’s footie team (we featured them on our cover way before the men’s team, back in 2008 (“GOT BALLS?“), we are embarrassed for not being clearer about this. Nonetheless…)! This is A Big Deal.
The team’s successes of late have been thrilling to observe, with many wondering: “Why now?” In our recent cover feature on the state of the Icelandic game, we spoke to two key Icelandic football veterans and asked exactly that. Both had some interesting theories on the side’s positive progress.
“Our current national team is not just a fluke,” said Pétur Marteinsson, a former national team defender. “It’s not something that just happened. 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.”
Iceland’s best known footballer and all-time top goal scorer Eiður Guðjohnsen echoed Pétur’s sentiments.
“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,” said Eiður. “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.”
Eiður thinks the current team has every chance of being the first men’s team to break through into the European Championship finals, and are perhaps paving the way for the future. “I hope that this team has set some role models for the younger generations to come,” he says. “Every boy dreams about playing in a European Championship or a World Cup. Maybe now they’ll realise it doesn’t have to stay a dream.”
Read the full story here.