For football fans, last night sure was one for the books. After an exciting match in Amsterdam, it looks like Iceland is headed to the men’s European Championships, while The Netherlands national team took a huge hit. And I got to witness it all, via ample media coverage from both sides! Behold! An account of yesterday’s game by a Dutch/Icelandic national:
Despite being a football ignoramus, I closely followed the media coverage of the match, of which there was plenty. And I do mean plenty. Football is a hot topic in Iceland’s media—even the Grapevine reports on how much of a football nation Iceland is, occasionally. Observing the pre-game coverage, I noticed that the Icelanders seemed unusually humble, even in the face of their first ever real shot at the European Championship, while the Dutch camp came off as optimistic, but wary.
Pre-game, the Dutch seemed cautious of Iceland’s team, fully aware that their adversaries had a real chance at the European Championship. Dutch reports mostly focused on statistics: “The last time Iceland scored on Dutch soil was in 1977,” one website reported.
Iceland’s media, meanwhile, speculated that the Netherlands would have a tough time winning (“It’ll be a tough match for the Dutch,” the head coach of the Danish men’s team, Morten Olsen, was quoted), and seemed cautiously optimistic. Despite this, however, polling numbers (courtesy of mmr.is) showed that more than half the Icelanders polled hoped Iceland would win, but that most thought the Netherlands would prevail at 2-1.
Boy, were most Icelanders wrong.
To be fair to the Dutch team, they got off to a bad start. The commentators for NPO, the Dutch state TV/radio, noted immediately that the Dutch captain, van Persie, failed to join his teammates in singing the national anthem. “Everything counts in this not-so-important match against Iceland”, the Dutch host noted. And then there’s the bit about losing Robben, Martins Indi’s red card (one of the few times the Icelandic commenters spoke up, screaming “YES! YES! YES! BLESS! BLESS! BLESS!”), having to fend for themselves ten against eleven. Twitter was ablaze, with one Dutch sports commentator tweeting “Iceland now has a guy more. That’s roughly one fifth of the Icelandic population” (@DiederikSmit) (sick burn, dude).
At halftime, the mood in Amsterdam was pretty good among Iceland’s supporters—one percent of the Icelandic population had travelled to Amsterdam, and were apparently having the time of their lives. Things were looking up, people were happy: Iceland wasn’t losing! They might even win, can you imagine? The Netherlands had never before lost twice to the same country in the qualifiers, as Dutch and Icelandic media pointed out. This would truly be a night of firsts. During the break, Simon Halink, a Dutch national observing the game at Ingólfstorg square—where the match was broadcast on a huge screen—told me that the atmosphere was pleasant, adding that “there’s very little orange here, so we’re a bit of an attraction. I’m also sitting next to the mayor of Reykjavík. That’s Iceland.”
As the second half trudged on, the Dutch slowly accepted the inevitability of defeat. The Netherlands’ new head coach’s first game would be a loss. Dutch radio commentators wondered how many of Iceland’s 320,000 strong population would go to France if they made the actual Championships. Simon told me that people in downtown Reykjavík were excitedly talking about “the European Championships finals, where Iceland—if and when they qualify—will find themselves, of course. The real Viking spirit.”
The way forward
And the downtowners aren’t the only hopeful ones. Through Icelandic crowdfunding hub Karolina Fund, two locals are trying to put together a documentary about the Icelandic national team’s progress in the European Championship preliminaries, and whatever comes after. ‘Leiðin okkar á EM 2016’ (“Our Way to the 2016 European Championship”) “…will show the work of the players, the coaches and other staff of the national team in a new light,” and has (at the time of writing) 40 days left to reach its funding goal.
Overall, everyone agrees that the Icelandic team did well and that the Dutch did… not so well. Martins Indi’s unnecessary violence was heavily criticized by both Icelandic and Dutch media. And, as one cheerful Dutchman noted on Twitter, as long as Iceland makes it to the finals, the Dutch will still kinda be there.
— Woordhumor (@Woordhumor) September 3, 2015
“We’ll still kinda be there next year…”
Still, I contend that the Dutch have the moral victory: our state-hosted TV/radio coverage was much funnier than the Icelandic one.
And it’s the small victories that count.