Iceland’s footballing heroes came to Reykjavík last night after their improbable run into the final eight teams of Euro 2016. Going unbeaten in their first four Euro matches at the finals makes Iceland the tournament’s second best debutante nation of all time, bested only by Italy, who managed five unbeaten games on their debut Euro run.
The team was greeted an estimated 30,000 people, or approximately 10% of the nation. They drove through downtown Reykjavík in an open-topped bus as bystanders lined the streets, waved flags, and cheered from balconies and rooftops. At Arnarhóll, where many watched the games on the big screen, the managers and players took the stage to thank their supporters and the behind-the-scenes staff, before leading the crowd in a thunderous rendition of their signature “viking chant.”
— RÚV Íþróttir (@ruvithrottir) July 4, 2016
It was Lars Lagerbäck’s last hurrah as the Iceland manager. The team and staff arrived as the song “Ég Er Kominn Heim” (“I Am Coming Home”) played, and Lars said Iceland had grown to feel like home to him. Under the Swede, the team won around 40% of their games, and went unbeaten in around 60%—but the story of their immense progress is about more than numbers.
His partner in managing the team, Heimir Hallgrímsson, will now step into the role. “We’ve been together for four and a half years,” said Heimir. “Marriages in Iceland never last so long. We’ll miss him, but he’ll remain in our hearts—and like Lars said, he’ll miss Iceland.”
“This is just unbelievable,” said the team captain, Aron Gunnarsson. “It’s been our honour—it’s been amazing to part take in this. The support we’ve got is beyond words. So from the boys and the staff and all the people involved with the national team; we want to say thanks.”
He also took to Twitter later, saying: “This is the most magnificent thing I’ve ever taken part in! I’ll remember this day for the rest of my life. Thanks!”
Having had a taste of tournament football, the Iceland team are now looking towards qualification at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. They missed out on the last World Cup by a very narrow margin during a qualifying campaign that went down to the last game. Alfreð Finnbogasson said, speaking to FIFA: “We don’t want to stop here. The qualifiers for Russia 2018 are about to start, and we’ll have to come back down to Earth pretty soon and focus on them. We’re going to carry on making history.”
Iceland’s first World Cup qualifying game is against Ukraine on September 5th at the Olympic National Sports Complex in Kiev. They will also face Croatia, Turkey, and fellow Nordic nation Finland as they seek to qualify for the tournament.
And after their unlikely and heroic Euro 2016 performance, this time, the world will be watching.
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