By Stefán Stefánsson & Adrian Clarke
When Iceland were drawn in UEFA EURO 2004™ qualifying Group 5, it seemed unlikely that they would be travelling to Hamburg to face Germany for their final game with a chance of pipping the FIFA World Cup finalists to first place, especially in a pool also containing Scotland.
Yet on Saturday victory for Asgeir Sigurvinsson's team would secure their place in Portugal - and if Scotland cannot beat Lithuania in Glasgow, Iceland will gain a play-off place even if they lose in Germany. Having been unlucky to be held 0-0 at home by Germany last month, it is not surprising to learn that Sigurvinsson and two of his squad have insider knowledge.
Sigurvinsson and brothers Thordur and Bjarni Gudjónsson all have experience of playing club football in Germany. The Gudjónssons are both at VfL Bochum 1848, while Sigurvinsson spent the peak of his career with VfB Stuttgart, having joined from FC Bayern München. His international knowledge has aided Iceland's campaign - they led the group until 10 September.
That run is even more impressive considering he only took over in May, when the side had only three points from three games. The next month a last-minute header from substitute Tryggvi Gudmundsson was needed to beat the Faroe Islands, but since then the only points they have dropped were in the draw with Germany. Sigurvinsson credits much of the run to assistant Logi Olafsson, himself a former national coach.
Praise for assistant
Sigurvinsson said. "We played together in the national youth team and he visited me in Stuttgart where he studied coaching.
He is an experienced coach who can easily reach players either with humour or using discipline."
Experience will be crucial in Hamburg, where Iceland have a number of selection questions. Defender Hermann Hreidarsson has not played since an injury in training with Charlton Athletic FC two days after the draw with Germany, though he may be risked. Runar Kristinsson, Tryggvi Gudmundsson, Gylfi Einarsson, Petur Marteinsson and Heidar Helguson are all injured, while the elder Gudjónsson brother, Johannes, is suspended.
Germany have injury problems of their own, though, with midfield players Dietmar Hamann, Torsten Frings, Jens Jeremies, Sebastian Deisler, Paul Freier and Jörg Böhme, as well as defenders Tobias Rau, Christian Ziege and Christoph Metzelder all out. Fabian Ernst is back in the squad after 14 months' absence.
Scotland recall Hutchison
Meanwhile, Scotland, who beat a pre-Sigurvinsson Iceland twice, are hoping for a Germany victory which would allow them to claim a play-off place with a home win against Lithuania. With Paul Lambert, Paul Dickov, Paul Devlin, Steven Thompson and Neil McCann all absent, forward Don Hutchison was recalled on Wednesday and he believes Scotland's fervent support will prove vital.
"With us playing in front of our own passionate fans
I am extremely confident that we will get the three points we require," Hutchison told uefa.com. "And with the Germans needing a result themselves to avoid the play-offs I think Iceland will have to produce something very special to beat them."
'Deserve to make the play-offs'
Like Iceland, Scotland have bounced back from a poor start. They had to come from 2-0 down to draw in the Faroe Islands and although narrow defeats in Lithuania and Germany have denied them a chance of first place, Hutchison believes "our performances and results since the Faroes debacle have been good and I think we genuinely deserve to make the play-offs".
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