Fairy-tale campaign makes Iceland national heroes
Thursday, 23 June 2016
The fairy tale of the century – a story so big it's overshadowing Iceland's upcoming presidential elections. Jóhann Ólafur Sigurdsson reflects on an emotional, crazy, historic day.
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What a day! What. A. Day. Iceland have only gone and qualified for the last 16. At their first ever major tournament. Talk about making history. It wasn't their best performance, but they won't care one bit.
- Iceland 2-1 Austria – all the action and reaction as it happened
- Austria win extends Iceland's mission impossible
- "I know probably 50% of the crowd – or at least recognise them!"
This team have become national heroes, the fans' celebrations at Stade de France after the win against Austria replicated back home. Icelanders filled Reykjavik city centre to watch the game and went ballistic when Arnór Ingvi Traustason hit the back of the net four minutes into added time.
It's difficult to put this triumph into context, to overestimate what this team have done for the country. The coverage back home is so enormous that even the Icelandic presidential elections, taking place on Saturday, have been completely overshadowed by UEFA EURO 2016.
Gylfi Sigurdsson summed it up perfectly. "We're in the last 16," said the Swansea City midfielder. "If someone had said that to me before the group stage I would have thought they were crazy. But it's a great story and we want to keep it going. We don't want to go home."
It's fair to say the supporters don't want to go home either. Indeed one I met after the game in Paris has already activated 'Plan B' with the boss; he's not going home, he's going to Nice whatever it takes. Even Icelandair have said that they will do everything they can to fly out as many Icelanders as possible.
The Austria game took place at 16:00 local time in Iceland and shops and offices across the country closed down early to ensure nobody missed it. It reminds me of what happened when the Iceland handball team reached the final of the Beijing Olympics in 2008. The country ground to a standstill.
Rest assured the same will happen on Monday when they take on England. Yes, England. The team that is more popular than any other back home. Even Iceland's players have supported them at major tournaments in the past. Not this time!
"It's the dream team for me," said Jón Dadi Bödvarsson, who scored the first against Austria. "It's the team I rooted for when I was young in Iceland watching EUROs and World Cups. It will be fantastic to meet them."
It will certainly be a massive occasion in Iceland. The Premier League is huge there and playing England is a dream come true for so many. I can imagine there will be a real scramble for tickets. The fairy tale of the century lives on!