Newstalk
Newstalk

16.17 18 Oct 2013


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Drop a ‘c’ and add an ‘r’ and we might have been celebrating a playoff place. But as it happens Iceland have reached the 2014 World Cup playoffs.

Under the control of long-time Sweden manager Lars Lagerback, the Icelandic national team has achieved something it has never really threatened to do since its first official match in 1946 – reach the playoffs for a major tournament.

Granted Group E was one of the easier groups Iceland could have been placed in with Switzerland as the strongest team and Norway and Slovenia the biggest threats for a playoff place.

(Qualifiers 2014)

Looking at the current squad which achieved the feat of being two games away from a trip from the North Atlantic to Brazil, Iceland have a number of players plying their trade in some of Europe’s top and secondary leagues and as we’ll see later, one thing unites them.

Four of Iceland’s squad members play in the Dutch Eredivise with three of those being key players.
Kolbeinn Sigþorsson and Alfred Finnbogason are both in their 20s (more on why that is significant later) and have excelled in the Eredivisie this season.

Sigþorsson scoring for his country

Sigþorsson is already Iceland’s fifth highest goalscorer ever with 13 goals in just 19 caps and has been prolific for Ajax this season, scoring five goals in nine games.

Last season in a campaign hampered by injury his goals-to-game ratio proved to be impressive, netting seven times in 15 games including goals against PSV and former team AZ – a club where he netted 15 goals in 32 games.

Fellow Eredivise-based striker Finnbogason is another forward with a prolific goal rate. Over the past two seasons he has scored an astonishing 34 goals in 38 games. Indeed this season he is the top scorer in the Dutch top flight with an incredible 10 goals in seven games.

Finnbogason has been prolific this season

He has netted four goals for Iceland including a key goal against group rivals Norway. Midfield is also well stocked and no one needs to highlight the talents of Tottenham attacking midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson who weighed in with four goals during qualifying. Joining him in the Premier League is national team captain Aron Gunnarsson who is a regular at Cardiff City.

Winger Johann Gudmundsson who plays for AZ Aalkmar also netted three goals in qualifying, while key midfielders Birkir Bjarnason (Sampdoria) and Emil Hallfredsson (Hellas Verona) play in a high level and tactically astute league like Serie A.

Iceland's most famous player Eidur Gudjohnsen, might not have scored for his country for a few years but he is enjoying something of an Indian summer. The 35-year-old ex-Chelsea and Barcelona forward is plying his trade in Belgium but still remains a part of the squad.

But apart from Gudjohnsen, the interesting to note about the important players mentioned is that the vast majority are between the ages of 23 and 25. And the one thing that unites this golden generation is the fact that most were members of the Iceland U21 team that reached a European Championship for the first time ever.

(Qualifiers 2014)

The U21 squad assembled in 2011 featured the likes of Finnbogason, Sigþorsson, Gudmundsson, Bjarson and Gunnarson. They might not have reached the knockout stage, but they managed to beat Denmark 3 – 1 with Sigborsson and Bjarnson among the scorers. So this is a team that have won together at underage level, going on to replicate that form with the seniors. They may well achieve their aim of qualifying for an expanded Euro 2016 if the current trajectory continues.

On an interesting side note, you may have read last week’s Euro Footy Focus on the problems in Turkish football. Turkey have relatively few licenced coaches for a country of its size.

But Iceland, which has a semi-professional domestic league, is estimated to have over 250 UEFA B licenced coaches for a playing population of about 21,000 players, while the Republic of Ireland is estimated to have just under 500 for a playing population of about 250,000 registered players which shows that Iceland have more licenced coaches per player than we do.

Indeed over 40 per cent of the Icelandic coaching population have UEFA B licences, while a further 17 per cent a UEFA A Licence or higher which is relatively good for a country of its size.


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