The coaches of Iceland's men's and women's Under-19 teams have noted sharp improvements in the generations schooled on indoor and artificial surfaces.
Iceland's men will be competing in the Elite round of the UEFA European Under-19 Championship in Norway while the women will be in action in a second qualifying round UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship mini-tournament in Belgium at the end of April. The coaches of both sides are feeling optimistic, despite coming from a nation with a population of just 300,000.
The men's U19 side got through the qualifying round thanks to wins against Belgium and Romania. They did lose to section winners England, but coach Kristinn Rúnar Jónsson has no cause to be overawed as his side take on Norway, Israel and Bulgaria in Group 3 from 27 April this month. "I think Icelandic football is in good health, with both boys and girls doing good," he said. "This generation was brought up in indoor halls and on artificial turf, so many good players are breaking through. They have better technique and the right attitude. I think we have done quite well now and shown that our standards are high. The senior team has not been so successful but I am sure better generations are coming and I am optimistic."
Ólafur Gudbjörnsson, who has coached Iceland's U19 women's team for the last decade, led his side to mini-tournament triumphs against Portugal, Romania and Greece in the first qualifying round. He admits that one of his problems with the U19s is a shortage of players at all levels, saying: "Our age span is four years while other nations have all their players at the top age," he said, even if there are advantages to that situation too. "The squad is big so many of our girls play a lot of youth games," he continued. "Some are still playing Under-18 national team games and they are still getting experience but one, Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir, is already in the senior team. Most of these girls are playing the Icelandic top division and fighting there for their places."
All that competition can only help his side, while geography hands the national teams another advantage. "Fighting spirit and physical strength have been our strongest points because we lack technique compared to bigger nations like Spain and Germany. And in this compact country it is easy to get the team together for training, unlike in the bigger nations," concluded Gudbjörnsson.
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