“I just can’t believe we didn’t lose!” a satisfied football fan said to his friend when trying to walk through the crowd rushing from Laugardalsvöllur, only seconds after the referee had blown his whistle for the last time that night. The Iceland National Football Team had just played Spain in a friendly, ending in a tie. Surprisingly, fans didn’t get the pleasure of witnessing any goals this time around, which was great news for Iceland but at the same time a shocking result for Spain.
But why are Icelanders happy about a 0:0 draw? Why do we claim that as a victory? The reason is simple. Icelanders suck at football. No one can deny that fact. We have never made it to the big boys’ tournaments, we only have one Class-A player and at this moment the team is experiencing its lowest rating ever, ranking number 106 in FIFA world list, sharing the seat with Azerbaijan and Singapore, just below Cape Verde Islands, Botswana, China PR, Armenia and Benin.
Spain on the other hand is among the world’s top football nations with a highly experienced team. Occupying the seventh position on the same FIFA list, fresh from Germany where they played the FIFA World Cup for the eighth time in a row while we haven’t even dreamt of an appearance at the World Cup. A football game between these two nations can’t be considered an even event, and no one was expecting these results.
When walking towards Laugardalsvöllur, I have to admit I was preparing for the humiliation of a crushing defeat, as were many with whom I talked before the game. One guy told me he wasn’t really ready to be humiliated once again; another said that the Icelandic players would probably just align at the goal line with the keeper in front of them, hoping that the ball wouldn’t go in. Even though the majority of the nation had doomed the game as a guaranteed slaughter, over 13,000 people attended to watch a rather uneventful game of bored and frustrated Spaniards trying to run past competitive Icelanders, who sure weren’t afraid of kicking some superstar asses.
That might just be the reason for a crowded Laugardalsvöllur. Icelanders love football and the stars of the Spanish team are in many cases better-known than most of the Icelandic players. Raúl, Torres, Reyes, Reina, Ibanez, Garcia, Villa. People wanted to see the idols for themselves, playing in their home country. Never mind the results.
While the Spanish team is filled with top world players from Liverpool, Barcelona and Real Madrid to name a few, Icelanders have one player who could be considered in their range, but to our disappointment our local golden boy Eiður Smári Guðjohnsen didn’t show. Our striker and team leader, now playing for Barcelona, pulled out of the team at the last minute because of illness, leaving the pressure on Hermann Hreiðarsson. But while the game went on without Iceland’s only football star, who rested at his home in Spain with his teammates Puyol and Xavi, other players finally got the chance to show what they got.
As said before, the majority expected the Spanish players to get the better of the Icelanders, leaving the nation humiliated once again. But hell no! The Icelandic players surprised us, Spain, and anyone paying even the slightest amount of attention to European soccer. The Icelandic team didn’t hang in on defence the whole time, they weren’t afraid to attack, and they honestly deserved to lead after the first half. They fought well and seemed to enjoy themselves out on the field, while the Spaniards showed us some dramatic tumbling and couldn’t really be bothered to take this seriously.
Yes, we didn’t lose this time and the media had a field day. A fair draw they said while complimenting the Icelandic players. The Spanish media weren’t as satisfied though, expecting beforehand that the team should have wrapped up victory.
“El partido más tonto” or “The Stupidest Game,” one Spanish newspaper headlined. After witnessing Spain’s poor effort in Iceland, supporters are now in serious doubt about Aragones’s presence as the coach, but he himself excused the game to the players’ low enthusiasm to play a friendly at this point and stating that they weren’t ready. He admitted that it was the worst game ever for him as a coach and was totally shocked by how the Icelandic players were rough in a friendly, sending the Spanish players home all scratched after harsh tackles.
Spain’s best performance that night wasn’t out on the field but in the crowd. Their few fans were the best team at Laugardalsvöllur and in that field they played far better than the locals. While a group of five Spaniards standing near me, waving their flag, shouting “Viva Espana!” and singing football songs I couldn’t understand were able to dominate the Icelanders, I can’t agree with local media thanking them for their support that night. If we are ever going to win anything and make it to the real tournaments we need some devoted hooligans (without the violence). The Spaniards were so thrilled, happy and in a good mood, I was considering joining their team.
Surely there were a lot of pooh-poohings when the opponents or the referee did something locals didn’t like, and we did manage to let a wave go five rounds at one point of the game, but when a couple of youngsters were trying to do it again a man shushed them and told them to stop the nonsense, leaving the disappointed youngsters speechless. Nonsense? Aren’t we at a sporting event? Aren’t we supposed to shout, paint our bellies and flash our breasts to the cameras? Not sit there like at a dentist office, all shy and polite, waiting for our turn while trying to let the time pass with some distractions, like say, a big football match. No flares, as they are forbidden, no big flags or painted faces. Only a couple of kids wearing Viking hats and some men with team scarves. Once in a while a choir of fans managed to shout “Áfram Ísland” loud enough to create some competitiveness in the stands, but that never lasted for long.
With the exception of a small crowd, our fans really have to pep up before the game against Denmark on September 6. We have to stop being a football nation that is thrilled with a 0:0 draw and shocked if we win a game. We can’t continue reviling our team if it doesn’t live up to our expectations if we can’t be bothered to support our players like real fans do. While the Spaniards are disappointed and want to forget this whole extravaganza ever happened, we Icelanders sure shouldn’t. Now we just have to work on an attitude change. Stop using the energy in poohing and support the team for real. Then it will be impossible to predict what will happen when we will play Spain again in the Euro 2008 qualifiers.