Iceland might be merely 90 minutes away from the 2014 World Cup in football , after a nerve-wrecking 0-0 draw against Croatia in Reykjavík on Friday.
The match was played on Laugardalsvöllur in front of nearly 10.000 spectators, most of who were cheering for the home side and drowning out the chanting of around 350 Croatia supporters.
Either team only got a couple of chances each to score a goal in the first half as both teams fought well; Croatia clearly had more ball possession and most of the action was in Iceland’s half of the field.
Iceland then took a bad blow close to half time when Ajax striker Kolbeinn Sigþórsson twisted his ankle and was carried off the pitch on stretchers.
A second blow came only 5 minutes into the second half, when striker Ólafur Ingi Skúlason, player for Zulte Waregem in Belgium, was given the red card.
That meant that for the remaining 40 minutes, the Icelandic players were 10 against 11 so the home side put all its efforts into stopping the ball from entering the Icelandic goal, playing defence for the rest of the match.
Even Tottenham midfielder Gylfi Sigurðsson showed a brand new side to him as a great defender, who knew?
Goal keeper Hannes Þór Hannesson, of KR in Reykjavík, had his eyes on the ball the whole time and had two great saves.
A loud sigh of relief could be heard from every corner when the referee blew the final whistle and the Icelandic audience went crazy, cheering as if the home side had won.
And judging by the acclamations across the country and online throughout Friday night, some might think that Iceland actually won the match and the phrase “we beat Croatia, nil-nil” surely has baffled many.
Why Iceland Doesn‘t Have To Win The Second Match
The fact that Croatia didn’t manage to score a goal in their away-from-home match is essential in Iceland’s strategy to make it to Brazil in 2014.
Had they scored in Iceland, their goal(s) would have more weight than if Iceland had scored on their own home field.
It’s called the away-goals rule; all goals that a team scores when playing on a tough away-field count for more than goals scored at a home-field.
So, for Iceland, the 0-0 results were much better than a 1-1 draw, because the Croatian goal would have had more weight in the future than the Icelandic one.
And because of the away-goals rule, Iceland could now possibly win the play-offs simply with another draw, a score-draw (1-1, 2-2 etc.).
Obviously, whichever team wins the match will have won the play-offs as well. But this means that for Iceland, the dream of getting to the World Cup in Brazil is far from over.
Never in Icelandic football history has a national team been this close to securing a spot in the World Cup, so the pressure is on.
At least one Icelandic striker is out, with Ólafur Ingi taking out a ban because of his red card in last game, and there’s complete uncertainty about another one.
Kolbeinn’s injuries are not as serious as was first feared, Mbl.is reports. His ankle is neither broken nor did he tear a ligament and he’s receiving the best treatment possible to get him on two feet again on Sunday at the latest.
Only then can it be determined whether Kolbeinn will be fit for playing the second match on Tuesday night in Croatia.
See a photo gallery from Friday’s match on Mbl.is