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Women's football in Iceland

A third of Iceland's footballers are women, helping to explain why a nation with such a small population can increasingly compete with the best.

Iceland's Sveindis Jonsdottir
Iceland's Sveindis Jonsdottir UEFA

History

Thinking big

Only five UEFA member nations have smaller populations than Iceland, yet when it comes to women's football, the island nation can more than hold its own. UEFA Women's EURO 2022 will mark Iceland's fourth consecutive appearance, and a FIFA Women's World Cup place cannot be far off. A third of all active footballers in Iceland are women, and the national team have long made the country's leading stadium Laugardalsvöllur their home. Iceland's men may have stunned the world by reaching the EURO 2016 quarter-finals, but the women had already got that far – both in Sweden three years previously and in the qualifiers for the 1995 edition.

Best UEFA competition performance

Senior: UEFA Women's EURO quarter-finals (1995, 2013)

Youth: UEFA Women's Under-17 Championship fourth place (2011)

Role model

Dagný Brynjarsdóttir at Women's EURO 2022
Dagný Brynjarsdóttir at Women's EURO 2022

When Iceland midfielder Dagný Brynjarsdóttir became pregnant in 2017, many assumed her career was finished. But she returned in 2019 and is now playing club football in England at West Ham, having also passed 100 caps in April. One more personal triumph for a player who headed Iceland's winner against the Netherlands at UEFA Women's EURO 2013 despite a broken foot.

"It was hard because your body starts at zero. It doesn't matter how much you worked out during pregnancy. Mentally I was the same player, but my body would not cooperate. It was hard for me to be patient, work hard, do everything right and believe that one day I'd be back."

Milestone moments

On the pitch… 

A 3-0 win against the Republic of Ireland on 30 October 2008 took Iceland to Women's EURO 2009, the nation's first major football final tournament for either men or women. A documentary entitled Our Girls followed their progress, and they have qualified for every Women's EURO since.

… and off it 

Last October, former national team player and coach Vanda Sigurgeirsdóttir became president of the KSÍ, the first woman to hold such a role with a European football association. Klara Bjartmarz has also been general secretary since 2015.

Vanda Sigurgeirsdóttir with Iceland's entry to the Trailblazers exhibition at UEFA HQ in Nyon, Switzerland.
Vanda Sigurgeirsdóttir with Iceland's entry to the Trailblazers exhibition at UEFA HQ in Nyon, Switzerland. UEFA

Game changer

The run to the 2009 finals was a defining moment for Iceland, especially having lost several play-offs in the past and after suffering the heartbreak of a 2-1 loss to France in their qualifying group when a draw would have sufficed. Their squad included not just a teenage Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir but also Margrét Lára Vidarsdóttir, who despite serious injury scored 84 goals in UEFA competition, putting her in the all-time top ten between Filippo Inzaghi and Ada Hegerberg.

Here and now

Playing perspectives: Junior/Senior

Karólína Lea Vilhjálmsdóttir and Sif Atladóttir
Karólína Lea Vilhjálmsdóttir and Sif AtladóttirUEFA

Sif Atladóttir is playing at her fourth UEFA Women's EURO, having been part of the Iceland squad that reached its first finals in 2009, while Karólína Lea Vilhjálmsdóttir is just 20 and playing at her first major finals. The pair discuss their early days coming through the same academy, their influential fathers and just how it feels to play for their country.

"In 2009, it was just fun to take part, it was a great experience," says Atladóttir. "Today we see our young girls on billboards everywhere in Iceland and we see our big profiles everywhere. There is a lot more coverage of women’s football and the exposure of the tournament itself is much bigger than before."

Read their discussion

Joining the game in Iceland

Are you interested in playing women's football?

Find out how to play where you are with the help of #WePlayStrong.

How you can play

Trailblazers exhibition

WEURO Trailblazers: Iceland

"Trailblazers" is a unique exhibition that showcases the work of European artists given a blank canvas to celebrate women’s football. UEFA invited artists from participating nations in this summer’s tournament to create an image inspired by the game in their country. Iceland's representative is Ninna Thorarinsdottir: "My inspiration is all these strong powerful women that are around today. There is so much power in them, like they are extruding into another dimension. My favourite player is most definitely Jorge Campos, the former Mexico goalkeeper,. mainly because of his uniforms. He designed them himself and they are amazing. The patterns are just like him in action, bouncing around the goal, you just see streaks of colours."

Investing for the future

The Football Association of Iceland's (KSÍ) women's football strategy

A year after launching its women's football strategy for 2020–2025, the KSÍ published a report on the status of women in Icelandic football – and suggestions for improvement, with the need to boost female participation in non-player roles a special priority.

Areas of focus:

* Enabling girls and women to grow within the game

* Encouraging more girls to play football

* Bringing in more women as administrators, coaches, referees and volunteers

* Raising the level and visibility of the women's game

* Strengthening the position of women within Icelandic football

Women's Football Development Programme (WFDP)

Since 2010, UEFA's WFDP has provided associations with funding and tools to increase participation, improve standards and build infrastructure to help keep the female game growing. One example of a project funded by the WFDP programme in Iceland is…

Full-time youth national team coaches (2017–20)

Action from Iceland's  U17 Girl's European Championship Qualifier against Germany in 2018
Action from Iceland's U17 Girl's European Championship Qualifier against Germany in 2018Bongarts/Getty Images

Iceland focused on implementing a new youth national team coaching system through which both the women's U17 and U19 coaches could be employed full time and therefore able to organise and structure programmes to foster growth and improvement in Icelandic women's football.

The project proved a success on the pitch, with Iceland's women's U17s winning 11 of their 13 games in 2018 and training together for around 35 weekends in a two-year period. Other benefits included longer and better-quality training sessions, and a coaching programme that singled out a selection of elite youth players to receive extra training with clubs, while also enabling the club coaches to learn from each other.