Not only have Iceland reached their first semi-final at any level in this season's UEFA European Women's Under-17 Championship, they have done so in incredible style.
In six qualifying games, Thorlákur Árnason's side scored 37 goals with only two against. Twice they racked up double figures, while they saw off Italy 5-1 and Sweden 4-1, and Aldís Kara Lúdvíksdóttir's personal tally of 11 is a record for Women's U17 qualifying. On 28 July they will face holders Spain in Nyon with a real chance of reaching the final three days later, and Árnason – a much-decorated coach of men's and boy's teams as well as a published novelist – thinks he knows why.
"There are many strong leaders in the squad," he told UEFA.com. "And although the key players were born in 1994 they are already playing in the top division and have therefore good experience, which I think is the advantage we have against other nations."
That did not look to be the case after the Nordic Cup last July, when Iceland were beaten in two of their four games. "After losing in the Nordic Cup, me and the players were not happy and the girls decided to make it to the finals, simple as that," Árnason said. "We decided to follow that dream and worked hard but looking back I guess this was a bit of a long shot, especially since only one team makes it through each group. To do that everything has to go your way and it did; we won our last eight games.
"In the first qualifying round the game against Italy was supposed to be most vital in the group but in fact it was more or less over by the beginning of the second half because we were the stronger team, thanks to our discipline against the physically stronger Italians. It makes things easier when Iceland take the lead in a game, as it forces our opponents to attack. Iceland have very fast forwards [on the counter]."
Now they have earned their place in the last four, Árnason – whose team trained together in indoor sport halls every fortnight through the winter – warned: "
We are not going to the finals as tourists. The players have by no means achieved enough. We barely celebrated winning the second stage because our focus was immediately on our next goal. The 18-player squad is strong but many more girls are knocking on the door and what is good for the future is that nine of the squad are born in 1995 and 1996 meaning they will be eligible next year."
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