It has not been a good eighteen months. Walking out onto the pitch at the Laugardalsvöllur stadium this Saturday, the players will line up knowing that their dreams of playing at the World Cup next year lay in tatters. With only one win, one draw and five defeats Iceland are languishing second to last in their qualifying group and must get a result against their opponents Croatia.
All the Talent, None of the Wins
For a population of nearly 300,000, it is remarkable what individual Icelanders have achieved on the football scene, with players of high calibre such as Eiður Smári Gudjohnsen and Hermann Hreiðarsson playing in the Premiership, but this development has unfortunately not translated itself onto the international scene.
Confidence seems to play a big part in this. Players who are playing in intercontinental football leagues, at the highest standards every week, are losing their confidence on the international scene? Could it be the fact that only 6000 on average turn up to see and support their beloved national team every time they play, or that hardly any people ever travel to watch Iceland abroad? Perhaps it could be that the national coaches don’t instill the players with the same confidence that managers and coaches at their domestic clubs do?
It is always going to be hard for a nation with such a small population to excel at team sports, but the sad fact is that the talent does lie within the national team and that it is not reaching its true potential under current coaches Ásgeir Sigurvinsson and Logi Ólafsson. If KSÍ are serious about harnessing the true potential of the players at their disposal, they must consider the option of using a foreign coach, who could offer the tactical know–how and experience to make the dream come true.
Iceland are just as good as similar smaller nations who have made it to the finals; Slovenia made it to the last World Cup, with only two million inhabitants and Northern Ireland have made it to three World Cups and a World Cup quarter-final with a population of only 1.6 million, and the pedigree of Iceland’s players far outstrips those of these two countries. Iceland certainly don’t have the depth in squad to upset big teams like Sweden but the players should have the confidence that they can mix it up with countries like Bulgaria and Hungary.
Upcoming opponents Croatia will certainly test the confidence of the Icelandic team to the extremes. Being one of the most skilled, talented and consistent national sides in Europe, Croatia currently top the World Cup qualifying group 8 with five wins, one draw and no defeats and are the favourites above Sweden to capture an automatic place in the World Cup next year and to do this, nothing less than victory will do for them on Saturday. The famous red and white check shirts of Croatia roll into Reykjavík after recently clashing with the legendary gold and green shirts of World Champions Brazil. Coming out of the game with a 1-1 draw, Carlos Alberto, the coach of Brazil believes that “they’re a very good team. They play a type of football close to the so-called ‘Brazilian school’; a game that prioritises technique and quality.”
Croatia without doubt are one of the most entertaining football teams to play in Iceland for quite some time, the game should be outstanding. If Croatia play like they normally do and if Iceland play with the recent confidence and discipline that they have found in the last two games, there is a good possibility that this could be a classic encounter. If you want to see a great game, don’t miss this. If Carlos Alberto is to be believed we might just get to see a little bit of “samba football.”
Iceland v Croatia (Sat 3rd September 18:05, Laugardalsvöllur Stadium)
Television coverage on Stöð 1.
Tickets available at Esso garages till Friday (cost Old Stand 3000 ISK, New Stand 2000 ISK) and at Laugardalsvöllur Stadium till 12:00 on the Saturday before the game (cost Old Stand 3500 ISK, New Stand 2500 ISK)
Follow Iceland’s remaining games:
Bulgaria v Iceland: 7th September 2005 (1700 GMT)
Sweden v Iceland: 12th October 2005