Iceland has taken the football world by storm these last few years. Our country, with only roughly 338.000 thousand habitats, is the smallest nation ever to qualify for the World Cup (and the Euro’s).
I was in downtown Reykjavik when the national team played the last game to qualify for the world cup, the atmosphere was nothing short of amazing – and take note this was on a monday evening and work the day after! The streets were flooded with people and everyone was celebrating all night long, many people called in “sick” to work the day after.
Since qualifying for the Euros in 2016 Iceland has been gaining attention on how such a small country can produce so many good football players.
The rise of the Icelandic national team is not just some luck and a random event, this success has been building for the last decades. There are several reasons behind it but I will dig deeper into a few key ones.
The biggest change that has affected the football in Iceland in recent years is the artificial grass and built indoor artificial heated halls all around the country.
Now most children have the opportunity to practice football in good conditions all year round. When I was younger and starting to practice football there were only indoor practices on hard ground or on sand for the better part of the year due to the weather. This generation of footballers are often called the “artificial football” generations due to being able to develop their technique all year long.
Here is one of two in Kópavogur called Fífan:
The other big reason is the quality of coaches, where in most age groups the coaches have coaching licenses from UEFA. This contrasts other countries where parents will often be training kids themselves without any educations or higher structure. Having educated coaches will get children on the right path when starting training with a great focus on the fundamentals such as technique. The youngest groups for the small teams out in the country also have players from the first team coaching them, which gives them a extra boost to want to succeed.
Then there are the small pitches, enclosed artificial, timber built all around the country. You’ll normally find one close to every school where children will go out in recess and play football. These fields are also open to the public and during summer it's usually always filled with kids playing football all day (and night with the midnight sun); practise makes perfect. If you are looking to go play football I recommend just looking for the nearest school!
The national teams play their home games in Laugardalsvöllur, it has the capacity for around 10 thousand fans but, the games are always sold out. Not long ago it was really hard for the football association to fill the stadium with giving out free tickets. But with the growing success of the team, the ticket demand has never been as high such as they are looking for solutions to either build another stand or move to a new one.
The atmosphere at home games is also getting pretty famous, almost all football fans have heard some version of the viking chant. My favourite chant for the home games is when the stands call between across “Áfram Ísland”(go Iceland), both stands tries to call higher and higher each time, gives me goosebumps every time!
Iceland qualified for the first time for a major tournament when finishing second in their group with teams like Czech, Turkey and the Netherlands. Everyone I knew started planning their trips to France as everybody wanted to take part in this amazing achievement and me, my brothers and uncle were no different, planning to see every game in the group stage.
At the fanzone before the first game vs Portugal. Travelade/Ingthor.
Before each Icelandic game in the tournament the fan zones nearby were always packed with blue and white crowd.
Having been to the world cup in Brazil in 2014 I had some experience of going to a big football tournament but that trip was one of a kind! Everywhere we went there was nothing but joy and fun as the Icelandic visitors had created another home in France, an Icelandic party all around where everyone was friends. Just being at the tournament was seen as a major achievement for every Icelandic person so they were just there to enjoy themselves.
Right before kickoff in Marseille, Iceland vs Austria. Travelade/Ingthor.
Being the smallest nation in the Euros we met a lot of other supporters who were rooting for us as their second team (or even first), seeing as we were looked at as being the underdog of the tournament. Everyone wanted the small team to go far in the competition and when we sent England home we wrote a new chapter in the history of icelandic football. Everyone wants to be a part of that kind of adventure!
After reaching the quarter finals the national team returned home as champions:
Who wouldn't want to participate and experience the viking chant with over 10 thousand people?
The Icelandic president didn't want to miss out. Travelade/Ingthor.
Austrian fans we met at the fanzone in Paris. Travelade/Ingthor.
Our mascot during the trip. Travelade/Ingthor.