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Iceland's band of brothers

Iceland defied the odds to qualify, never mind hold Portugal, and team reporter Jóhann Ólafur Sigurdsson reveals the depth of the squad's friendship – in many cases forged at U21 level.

Iceland celebrate their goal against Portugal
Iceland celebrate their goal against Portugal ©Getty Images

Iceland are not a team built around superstars; they do not have a Ronaldo, Messi or Bale.

They do possess some high-quality players, the likes of Gylfi Sigurdsson. And what they have more than anything is team spirit.

You often hear the players talk about their friendship, their unity. "I think that is our main characteristic, we fight for one another," said attacking midfielder Sigurdsson. "We are all good mates, probably more so than in other national sides, and it has got us far."

While the UEFA EURO newcomers have a good mix of players of all ages, there is a particular core that have played together through the national youth team structure. Six of the Iceland players in France were part of the side that made history by qualifying for the 2011 UEFA European Under-21 Championship.

To get there they beat Germany 4-1 in qualifying, before eliminating Scotland in the play-offs. But entering those finals in Denmark they seemed fazed by the occasion.

"We were really excited about the tournament but I think most of the players were not ready for it," revealed midfield man Birkir Bjarnason.

Iceland started that U21 showpiece with two losses, against Belarus and Switzerland, before getting one over Nordic rivals Denmark. "We began very badly in our first two games and did not start to play well until the Denmark fixture," added Bjarnason. "That was just too late. I think we learned a lot from that."

This exciting nucleus had emerged at a time when Icelandic football was changing: "We are all brought up at a similar time, when there was both power and the technical aspect," said Aron Gunnarsson, another midfielder. "We, of course, got the benefit of the indoor halls, but if you don't have the right mentality you can just forget it."

2011 flashback: Iceland U21s beat Denmark
2011 flashback: Iceland U21s beat Denmark

It is this mindset that defines the Icelandic band of brothers, and it was visible throughout Tuesday's 1-1 draw with Portugal in Saint-Etienne. "All of us were 100% ready from the first minute until the last," Bjarnason said. "It's very good to have this experience in the U21s in the bank."

If the Icelanders made history with their first EURO point, they want more as they take on surprise Group F leaders Hungary on Saturday in Marseille. "All our conversations have ended with the fact the point we got won't matter unless we do something against the Hungarians," stressed forward Johann Gudmundsson.

"Of course we'll go into the match to win it. Hopefully we succeed, and then we can look back at the Portugal game even more fondly," Gudmundsson went on. In short, Lars Lagerbäck and Heimir Hallgrímsson's side want to show Europe that their debut result was anything but a one-off.