Iceland heroes earn immortality after stunning England
Tuesday, June 28, 2016
Jóhann Ólafur Sigurdsson tries to come to terms with the remarkable triumph of Iceland, a country of 330,000, over England, home to 53 million. Best of all, he says there's more to come.
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Iceland have just done it. They really have.
This is such a big result, such a seismic one for the footballing world. Of course, the players have shown they are very good at what they do. But still, we're talking about a nation of 330,000 people. Against a heavyweight like England and its population of 53 million. It's indescribable. People outside the country will struggle to grasp quite how much it means.
Supporters filled the city centre in Reykjavik. Thousands and thousands showed up to watch the game. You can possibly imagine the atmosphere at the final whistle. Fireworks were set off; sheer joy would be an understatement. It was the same at the Stade de Nice. There were 3,000 at the round of 16 match; it sounded more like 30,000.
Airlines have already started to organise extra flights to Paris before this weekend's quarter-final (quarter-final!). Fair to say there will be an invasion of Icelanders. One man said he would sail to Paris if necessary. People will do whatever is in their power to be here on Sunday to face the hosts.
The 2-1 result aside, this was a much-improved performance from the side. As usual they defended superbly, but their attacking play was a lot better than recent games. "We have definitely given priority to that. We tried to be a little cooler when we won the ball. We've taken small steps but we will have to improve more," says joint-coach Lars Lagerbäck.
That is possibly the biggest positive of all: Iceland beat England and yet still feel there is room for improvement. "I'm going to keep on saying that you haven't seen the best of us yet," reckons the other half of the coaching duo, Heimir Hallgrímsson. France, be warned.
I'm certainly not going to doubt him: Iceland have been defying the odds ever since securing their historic first qualification. "These guys are unbelievable. Their character – we've shown for a few games now how good their character is. They seem to be getting better and better," adds Hallgrímsson.
"After winning this, no obstacle is too big for them." Nothing this group of players do from here on will be a failure. They're comfortably in the hearts of the nation. For now. Forever.