The Vikings win the hearts of the EURO 2016 fans.
Not many experts, pundits or fans had any expectation for the team representing the country with the smallest population of all the teams competing at the 2016 European Championship. Often confused with Greenland in a Geographical sense, Iceland is a small but proud country that was making its official debut in a major competition. In a Qualifying group that included the likes of Czech Republic, Turkey and Netherlands, in a Soccer/Football sense, Iceland was not on anyone’s radar. Flashback to two years ago, they nearly qualified for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil losing to an intimidating Croatian midfield in the second leg of the second place qualifiers. That would not sit well with the FA in Iceland. In fact it motivated them.
Iceland was not embarrassed or even proud to almost make it to the World Cup; they were simply motivated for the Euro qualifiers. The FA in Iceland had re-done development and upgraded facilities to be able to not let the next major competition slip through their grasp. During the Qualifying round they completely shocked the world with defeating a poor Netherlands team (twice), defeating a respectable Czech Republic and dismantling a Turkish side that has its own issues with the fans, coaches and federation as a whole. However the results swung or for whatever reason they made it and played out every game to their game and made teams play according to their style, not the other way around as many “small teams” do.
The Draw for the Euro was more favorable for Iceland. UEFA governing body decided to add more teams to the competition thus allow for “smaller teams” to enter to a major competition. However you want to put it, it gives everyone that qualifies a chance. Their group was with the “giants” and old history of Portugal led by their talisman Cristiano Ronaldo, the Austrian dark horses and an afterthought in Hungary. On paper it was a fight for second or third place. Many experts had Portugal winning the group and Austria a close second. Not many voices were behind the Ice-Men. Not many had any ideas what would be to come of these newcomers and future starts of the competition.
Once the game had ended against Portugal, not many people had known what hit them. The Icelandic players were in a euphoric state while the dejected Portuguese had no answers. All players, coaches and staff ran to the far end of the stadium and celebrated with the VIKING CLAP. What immense joy for all involved. The next few games appeared to be business as usual for the Icelandic players and their new found fame. Organization. Dedication. Motivation. That is how they were able to WIN THE GROUP albeit their next opponent was no push over.
England. Mighty England and their Premier League stars. Many players on Iceland are very big fans of the Barclays Premier League. Gylfi Sigurdsson plays for Premier League, Swansea City, so for him it was a little reunion. Just like the previous three games, Iceland played their game to their advantage. All around standout performances from each player and coaching staff alike, allowed Iceland to get passed the underwhelming English side. Yet again, to the corner everyone went as we all clapped with them, the VIKING CLAP. What a moment. What a scene. What joy it gave everyone. Everyone loves the underdog until the underdog beats you.
Next up was France, but it was hard to ignore the statistics. How can a country with only 300,000 people produce this? Were they in fact world beaters? Were they going to actually upset the hosts? Could they have the courage to do it to the host country? Unfortunately, this Cinderella story came to an abrupt 5-2 defeat to the would be semi-finalists, France. Had the spotlight become too bright for the Ice-Men or was it that France was that much better. You could argue, had LLoris not made a point-blank range save or had the referee call a hand to ball rather than a ball to hand in the area, it could have been a much closer 5-4 possible result. With all these speculations in place it was still hard to see our fairy tale come to an end. It was not the Leicester City result we were hoping for yet we were satisfied, wanting more but also satisfied.
After seeing the Icelandic players and staff give their relentless and cheering fans a final and farewell VIKING CLAP, I believe it was an appropriate good bye. They were led by their teary eyed captain Aron Gunnarsson and their rock in the defense Ragnar Sigurdsson. They fully demonstrated to everyone what it means to have national pride. And just like heroes, they received a welcome back home that they fully and completely earned. I want to take the time to thank Iceland but I will not give them one final VIKING CLAP because Russia 2018 and I hope to clap with them.