The message from Iceland ahead of the nation’s World Cup debut is that they are no miracle-makers and Lionel Messi’s men better be on guard
Kolkata, the capital city in the state of West Bengal has an area of 205,000 square km with around 4.5 million people living there.
Iceland is a European nation that is 103,000 km squared with a population of only 350,000 people. And most are in Russia to watch and play in the World Cup.
The smallest nation in terms of population will make its debut against one of the favorites of the tournament, Argentina, at the Spartak Moscow stadium, on Saturday.
Their coach Heimir Hallgrimsson, who happens to be a dentist, rightly pointed out that for his players, the day would be the ‘biggest’.
History will definitely be made.
The country with the unique Viking ‘Thunder-Clap’ celebration became famous in their very first major tournament when they reached the quarter-finals of Euro 2016, only to lose to the hosts, France. But footballers and fans of Iceland celebrated the same way as they did after their memorable victory in the second round against England.
The nation’s European Championships success was followed by qualification for the World Cup by beating Kosovo in October 2017. Iceland was placed in a group with Croatia, Turkey, and Ukraine. Iceland topped the standings with seven wins from ten matches, forcing Croatia to go to the play-off to reach Russia in 2018. That itself was an achievement for the smallest nation. Now they will be looking at the bigger picture against a team led by the legendary Lionel Messi.
Heimir had no hesitation to declare that he has no magic formula to stop Messi from scoring. And that is why it would not be fair to ask any player from his team to mark the Argentine captain.
But when a journalist used the word ‘miracle’, Heimir was not ready to agree. He had his reasons, too. “When we reached the quarter-finals of Euro, winning four matches, it could not have been a miracle. We played well to earn our place there. That cannot be a miracle.”
Rightly so. They did not win four matches though. The first two were 1-1 draws against Portugal and Hungary in their first two group league matches while beating Austria and England next. But his point was undeniable.
So, what can be expected when the debutants meet one of the favourites to win the tournament? Or, can they advance from the group described as the group of death comprising of Nigeria and Croatia?
Iceland will definitely sit back and allow the Argentines to have the lion’s share of the ball. Set pieces are their sole weapons to score.
Basically, the northern Europeans are a counter-attacking team that wants to break at the opponent at the right moment with speed. Under Heimir, all these collective qualities are religiously maintained and he does not want to change that. Why should he? The tried and tested process of playing football for a small nation that has given them success, can be changed only when there is the need to change it.
As of Friday, 24-hours before the red-letter day of their football history, they will stick to their methods to test the abilities of a certain LM10.
Watch out for the Vikings!