Published June 23, 2014
If you have sat next to an Icelander while watching this year’s World Cup, you will have heard that Iceland almost reached the tournament. That is true, up to a point. Only Croatia stood between the national team and a place in the most watched sporting event in the world. At the start of the second half of the second leg of their playoff, Croatia led 1-0 but were down to ten men because their star striker had been sent off for a foul. All Iceland had to do was score one goal and they would get to compete in a World Cup.
That “almost” in the first question sorta kills the suspense.
Yes, a few minutes after the second half started Croatia added a second and Iceland never looked likely to get back into the game. Ten Croatian players were better than eleven Icelandic ones. Which is no shame given that Croatia has a fairly storied past as a footballing country, so really there was little hope all along. But nonetheless embers still remain of the fire of hope. Icelandic football fans have a hard time not thinking that maybe, just maybe, if Iceland could have scored a goal…
…and if icebergs were made of grape jelly the Icelandic national team could sail to Brazil on the Titanic.
And Antarctica would be the most delicious continent. On the one hand, it would be ludicrous to expect a nation of 325,000 people to have a talent pool deep enough to reach the biggest stage in a sport played by a sizeable chunk of humanity. On the other, though, the team came agonizingly close. But the game was up, so to say, when Icelandic striker Kolbeinn Sigþórsson, the team’s greatest goal threat, was out of the contest halfway through the first leg of the playoff due to an injury.
No need to dwell on the fact that Icelanders aren’t going to the World Cup.
The Icelandic team is not going, but one Icelander is. Aron Jóhannsson, an Icelandic striker with dual American citizenship, is part of the U.S. national football team. He grew up in Iceland but was born in Alabama where his parents were studying. He spent several summers in his teens being trained in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy for promising youth players. Even spending a winter in a Florida high school for gifted athletes…
Since his football career was spent in America, it’s no wonder he played for the US.
Only a small part of it. He mostly played in Iceland in his youth and his first club was the Reykjavík club Fjölnir. From there he followed the typical path of a good Icelandic football player, first going to a club in the Nordic countries and then transferring to a club in the Netherlands. He did well enough in the Dutch league to attract the attention of the US national team, and now he is at the World Cup.
The Icelandic national team really should have pounced on him first.
They did. He played for the Icelandic national youth team and was called up for a game in 2012 but did not take part because of an injury. It would have been quite useful to have another good striker to send onto the field when Iceland was playing Croatia, but that was not to be. Instead the first Icelander to take part in the World Cup is representing the US.
I imagine all Icelanders will be rooting for the US at the World Cup.
More of them than usual, certainly, but reflexive anti-Americanism is not uncommon here. And some people took the news that Aron Jóhannsson opted to play for the U.S. rather badly. Notably KSÍ, the Icelandic football federation, which accused him of selling out his homeland for money. The full, ludicrous quote reads: “The only thing that KSÍ has heard from interested parties is that as a player for the US Aron’s income potential is completely different and much greater in the form of endorsements and advertising revenue than if he were a player for Iceland. It is simply the fact that members of the Icelandic national team play for their country and nation and receive in turn honour and glory.”
Whichever Icelandic football official was caught drunkenly off guard by a late night phone call from a reporter must have been really sorry the next morning.
That was KSÍ’s official press release. Like pretty much any country in the world, Iceland really, really, really wants to be at the World Cup. When Aron Jóhannsson declared for the US there was still a chance Iceland would make it. It was like a delicious mountain of grape jelly floating towards the good ship KSÍ. But it turned out to be a Croatian iceberg.