The financial crisis which led to all three of Iceland's major banks collapsing has had severe effects, but national-team coach Ólafur Jóhannesson feels it may have been positive for football.
"Last year was our first economic crisis season, and I think it was not bad for football in Iceland since many foreign players left, enabling the young ones to get a break," he told UEFA.com. "That turned out fine so I am happy and hopefully things will continue to go well. It seems the clubs in Iceland haven't signed many foreigners so more young players will get a chance to show their skills."
The former FH Hafnarfjördur coach and sometime carpenter feels the standard of talent in Icelandic football is improving, and has sensed a corresponding rise in the ambition of the nation's youngsters. "All these boys dream about playing abroad and the young players are better trained now than before," said the 52-year-old.
"Of course we have indoor football facilities, but the players are also stronger physically, which is the result of them working harder on improving their physical strength. In our 0-0 friendly draw against Mexico earlier this year, I only used players from Icelandic teams and they looked good; big and strong, which is a big improvement on recent years."
For the season ahead, Jóhannesson feels KR Reykjavík will be the team to watch, saying of last season's runners-up: "KR look very strong. They were worried about getting somone between the posts but finally landed a goalkeeper. Their attack is powerful but the defence is more uncertain − they need a new man to cover the centre."
Of last season's Icelandic Cup winners, he added: "I think Breidablik will be strong. They won their first big title last year and that must be a lesson for them, but it could also go to their heads and that is something for their coach to watch."
FH, Jóhannesson's old club, may be in for a harder season, meanwhile. "They have lost a lot of players and may not be able to fill the gaps, but something might still happen there," he said. "They have 13 to 14 good players that can stand up to KR but that is not enough."
Fylkir finished third last season, earning a UEFA Europa League place, and Jóhannesson is looking for them build on that success. "Now it is up to their coach, Ólafur Thórdarson, to keep them on the run," he said. "He managed to encourage a good spirit among his players and even though they did not have the best technical skills, that battling spirit took them a long way."
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