Iceland relishing 'start of an exciting era'

Having dethroned holders Germany and scored more goals than anyone else in qualifying, Iceland understandably "have high goals" as they look ahead to their first Under-21 finals.

Iceland celebrate their victory against Germany
Iceland celebrate their victory against Germany ©Getty Images

Now known as 'Our Boys' in Iceland, Eyjólfur Sverrisson's side will compete in the UEFA European Under-21 Championship finals for the first time in Denmark. "The start of an exciting era," is how senior coach Ólafur Jóhannesson described their qualification feat and understandably so after a campaign in which Iceland finished as top scorers in the group stage with 29 goals and eliminated reigning champions Germany en route to claiming second spot in their section. Seeded despite finishing as one of the best four runners-ups, they were handed a play-off with Scotland and their scoring power told once again in a 4-2 aggregate triumph.

Sverrisson's commitment to attacking football paid handsome dividends with goals running through the side, Jóhann Gudmundsson scoring six times and both Alfred Finnbogason – Iceland's player of the year – and Gylfi Thór Sigurdsson adding five each. With many of the squad playing abroad, including Gudmundsson (AZ Alkmaar), Sigurdsson (TSG 1899 Hoffenheim) and Rúrik Gíslason (Odense BK), and seven having already represented the senior team, Iceland are not short on experience either as they look to spring another surprise next June. As Sigurdsson said: "We will not go to [Denmark] just to be there; we have high goals."

Though their Group 5 programme was bookended by home-and-away losses to the Czech Republic, Iceland barely put a foot wrong. They did the double against Northern Ireland and San Marino, including a record 8-0 victory, before making their mark in two pivotal meetings against Germany.

The first took them to Magdeburg in March 2010 and they twice had to come back from behind to earn a 2-2 draw, their KV Mechelen-based captain Bjarni Vidarsson registering the second equaliser with 13 minutes remaining. What happened next ensured that nobody will be taking Iceland lightly in Denmark as they dethroned Germany courtesy of a 4-1 win in the return, Birkir Bjarnason, Sigurdsson, Kolbeinn Sigthórsson and Finnbogason getting the goals.

The final step – a play-off against Group 10 winners Scotland – arguably proved the hardest. With tension running high in front of 7,255 at Reykjavik's Laugardalsvöllur national stadium, Iceland fell behind in the first leg before Gudmundsson equalised and Almarr Ormarsson made it 2-1 with a spectacular late effort from distance. In the return in Edinburgh, goalkeeper Arnar Darri Pétursson and defender Andrés Már Jóhannesson led the way as Iceland withstood their hosts' pressure, before Sigurdsson struck twice to secure another 2-1 success and a finals berth.