Iceland’s dream of qualifying for next year’s World Cup was shattered on Tuesday night when the national team was defeated by Croatia 2-0 in the second leg of the play-offs.
Only needing a score-draw to make it to Brazil, hopes were up high and a few hundred Icelanders had flocked to Zagreb to support the men‘s national team in the biggest match of Icelandic football history.
Amongst them were ministers, the First Lady and the President, who had lunch with “The Boys” on game day.
With two strikers out, the Icelandic team never seemed to catch a break in the fast paced match. The Croatian team had a fierce start and Mario Mandzukic managed to score after 27 minutes.
Ten minutes later he received the red card for a foul against Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson and at half time Iceland had hopes of scoring at least one goal against only ten men, which would have secured the ticket to Brazil.
The big blow came only one minute into the second half, when Dario Srna scored Croatia’s second goal.
The task of scoring two goals against a strong and fast Croatian team overwhelmed the Icelandic team and despite goalkeeper Hannes Þór Halldórsson making a few brilliant saves, the Icelanders just seemed to have let go of the dream.
So it were the Croatians who cheered at the final whistle while the Icelandic players walked off the pitch with tears in their eyes, having been so close to becoming the smallest nation ever to have made it to the World Cup.
Former captain of the national team, 35 year old Eiður Smári Guðjohnsen, choked up as he revealed in a live TV interview on RÚV right after the match that he had most likely played for Iceland for the very last time.
As Iceland’s “golden boy” of football for nearly 20 years, he had obviously hoped to finish his career in the World Cup next year.