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FH and Stjarnan do Iceland proud

FH Hafnarfjördur and Stjarnan – the unbeaten top two in Iceland – carried their form into Europe, eliminating FC Neman Grodno and Motherwell FC respectively.

Stjarnan celebrate reaching the UEFA Europa League third qualifying round
Stjarnan celebrate reaching the UEFA Europa League third qualifying round ©Eva Björk

The UEFA Europa League second qualifying round exploits of FH Hafnarfjördur and Stjarnan meant Iceland awoke a proud nation on Friday.

FH, having drawn 1-1 in Belarus against FC Neman Grodno a week earlier, won the return 2-0, increasing their number of victories in UEFA competition to a national record 16. Stjarnan's Thursday evening was more fraught, however.

Making their continental debut this season, the side from the Reykjavik suburb of Gardabaer equalised with five minutes remaining against visitors Motherwell FC. That made it 2-2 on the night and forced extra time, where Atli Jóhannsson's thunderous shot settled matters.

FH's reward is a pair of encounters with IF Elfsborg, Swedish champions in 2012. "We planned to keep a clean sheet because we knew they had to score," said coach Heimir Gudjónsson, whose team are top of the Úrvalsdeild after 12 games. "We played well, though maybe not as well as in the first game, and it is fair that we are still in the competition. I am very pleased. I have not seen Elfsborg play, but I expect they have a great team."

Second in the Icelandic top flight, Stjarnan were never ahead over the course of their tie against Scottish Premier League runners-up Motherwell until six minutes from the end. They were 2-0 down after 19 minutes of the first leg at Fir Park but showed character and resilience, qualities that were again evident on Thursday, in forcing a draw.

"We know we had to close the wings and did so," said coach Rúnar Páll Sigmundsson, whose immediate focus is on Sunday's league visit of ÍBV Vestmannaeyjar rather than an attractive home date with KKS Lech Poznań next week.

"We believed [in ourselves] all of the time and showed in the second half and extra time that we were the stronger team − and it was incredible to see our winning goal. We have shown we never give up and I have to compliment the players for being tough, organised and hard-working against a strong side.

"We now have to attend to our league games and I haven't so much as looked into our next UEFA match. However, I know Lech are a good team and we are very much looking forward to the game."