Published April 1, 2009
Scotland, Iceland’s opponents in this week’s round of international games, possess a rare thing – a 90% success rate in their last ten international fixtures. That is to say that they have succeeded in not winning 90% of their last ten games and they managed to succeeded in not winning against Holland on Saturday as well – a dire record for a proud sporting nation.
This poor form is probably because Scotland can barely muster a first-grade team of players (Darren Fletcher of Manchester United is their only Premiership player in the current first XI) and have a manager, George Burley, who appears unable to rouse the rabid Celtic spirit that has dragged Scotland to victory in many seemingly unwinnable games.
So when Mark Lawrenson, an ex-Liverpool defender and European Cup winner who attracts almost universal mirth for his skills of analysis, declared that a Scotland win was a “no-brainer” it wasn’t exactly a statement supported by recent history, especially when you consider that Iceland have a similar record to Scotland in recent games and held Norway – a half-decent side – to a 2-2 draw in Oslo.
Certainly, Iceland’s status as a remote island nation doesn’t help their sporting image. Traditionally such countries are the whipping boys of international football (see San Marino, Malta and near-neighbours the Faroe Islands for excellent examples of consistent annihilation on the football pitch) and Iceland’s small population makes the chances of producing a team of outstanding footballers rather small.
But Scotland are a team playing without confidence and it would be a surprise if Iceland capitulated to the relatively meagre threat offered by a team of second-rate footballers. Players such as Coventry City’s young midfield anchor Aaron Gunnarsson, Bolton’s rampaging defender Grétar Steinsson and the ever-mercurial Eiður Guðjohnsen, currently of Barcelona FC, are a class above most of the Scotland squad and they also have motivation of restoring international pride to a country that’s experienced some very negative PR since the Kreppa hit the news.
Perhaps, as Guðjohnsen said this week, the lack of expectation could be a key to success as well: “I’m sure there is more pressure on them than there is on us. Expectations of the Scottish team are much higher than of Iceland’s.” Combine the lack of pressure from the country’s football fans (Iceland have never qualified for a major international tournament) with the pressing need to restore a positive and respectable image abroad, and the Icelandic football team might well prove doubters like Mark Lawrenson wrong on Wednesday. I hope so.
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