And that, as they say, is that. Iceland’s World Cup run was short, but glorious. Their incident-packed week in the Group of Death—Argentina, Croatia, Nigeria, and of course, Iceland—gripped the entire nation, and, for that matter, the world. We ran a daily news column throughout these fraught and exciting days. Here’s a recap of how Iceland’s tournament played out.
Messi and Di María got the fear
As the teams arrived in Russia, inside sources in Argentina camp let slip about the pre-game night terrors experienced by their Iceland-traumatised squad. Ángel Di María and Lionel Messi experienced strange dreams as they tossed and turned in the team’s hotel; it’s rumoured that Sergio Aguero had to be coaxed in from his balcony, where he was staring at the Moscow skyline murmuring about Valhalla. The Argentina coach even had a locksmith on standby to get his players out of their rooms to face Iceland. Poor things.
Sexy Rúrik went Insta-viral
The game, as it turned out, was a memorable and hard fought 1-1 draw. Winger “Sexy” Rúrik Gíslason made a second-half cameo in the game. His mesmerising looks caught the eyes of the world, and his Instagram following ballooned from 30,000 to 267,000 in the following 24 hours. The 66° North model’s posts were inundated with Spanish-language comments, with the topless shots proving particularly popular. Rúrik would end the tournament with 1m followers, leaving him poised to become an unlikely social media influencer amongst South American women. Don’t forget who repped you from the start, Rúrik.
The infinitely wrong Russian commentator
Vasily Utkin, a Russian commentator and a co-owner of the sports.ru website, came out against Iceland in no uncertain terms after the Argentina smiting. He rewrote history by claiming Icelanders were those who’d fled the Vikings, and claimed that Iceland’s super-solid defensive style is damaging the beautiful game, also expressing surprise at the outpouring of worldwide support for the team. However, he failed to notice that Iceland are an invasive Viking force marching boldly across the battlefield of world football, smiting their opponents into submission left and right. Onwards!
Banking on a win
As the crunch game against Nigeria drew near, even banks caught World Cup fever. Íslandsbanki announced that employees would be allowed to finish work at 15:00 GMT so they could get behind Iceland for their second match. After Nigeria’s terrible showing against Croatia, a win felt likely, and Iceland were, somehow, suddenly favourites to take a commanding position in Group D. Any weirdos desperate to do their banking during the match were advised to do so online.
Lords of the flies
The Nigeria battleground was the Volgograd arena in the former Stalingrad. It turned out to be a sinking stadium built on dodgy sand covering a fly-ridden swamp. England and Tunisia were eaten alive by midges during their Volgograd game, and a storm of low-flying insects seemed to impair the Three Lions’ sight of the goal throughout. To avoid the same fate, Iceland stocked up on insect repellent, and lodged a request with FIFA to wear helmets with detachable steel visors. There’s nothing in the rulebook prohibiting this, but football’s governing body wasn’t keen.
Small in numbers, strong in thirst
Ahead of the game, travelling Vikings managed to complete the impossible task of drinking Russia dry, according to Reuters. “We just didn’t think they would only want beer,” said one Moscow waiter, mourning the lack of more liquid gold to sell. Reports out of Nizhny Novgorod suggested Swedish fans drank all of the city’s beer before their game even kicked off. Visiting Icelanders were also thirsty, clearly making the most of not having to pay 1,400 ISK a pint for a change.
Modrić vows to beat Iceland for Messi
In the end, Iceland slumped to a miserable 2-0 defeat to Nigeria, turning in a clearly tired performance in 33° heat. Croatia duly defeated Argentina, leaving Messi’s men hanging on by a thread. Luka Modrić then vowed that Croatia would beat Iceland for Lionel Messi and help Argentina out of the group. He told Argentinian sports broadcaster TyC: “I wish Argentina good luck. We are going to beat Iceland for them.” The stage was set for a blockbuster finish to group D, with all four teams still capable of making it through to the knockout stage.
Gylfi ready for grudge match
Iceland’s spirits were still high ahead of the final must-win game. In an interview with FIFA correspondent Pétur Hreinsson, Gylfi Sigurðsson insisted Iceland had “nothing to lose” against Croatia, recasting our boys as World Cup underdogs. The Everton playmaker was ready to make amends for his missed penalty against Nigeria, which sailed over the bar. Gylfi said the team would draw on past experiences to progress. “Somehow, we always manage to fight back and do the almost-impossible,” he said. “I hope that will be the case this time as well.”
God on our side
On the final game day, Icelandic nuns threw their support behind the team as World Cup fever gripped the religious community. The Carmelite Sisters of Hafnarfjörður spoke on behalf of the Big Kahuna himself by posting a video on Facebook of their 12-woman squad performing a perfectly timed Viking Clap. Alas, even the promise of divine intervention didn’t help; after six extremely promising efforts on the Croatia goal, and a crunching, physical game that saw Birkir playing on bravely with a gushing bloody nose, Iceland exited the tournament after a 2-1 defeat, heads held high. The nation cheered them on, and after this first taste of World Cup football, and one thing is certain: Euro 2020 is on the horizon, and both the team and the nation are hungry for more.
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