ICELAND’S JOURNEY TO EURO 2016
Early Stars of Icelandic Football
Although football has remained a popular sport in Iceland since its heyday in the 1890s, the Icelandic national football team has not been very successful until recently. Before 2000, Iceland had produced only a few decent players that would go on and make their mark as professional footballers.
Albert Guðmundsson was the first Icelandic player to play at a professional level. In 1944 he moved to Glasgow, Scotland, where he played for Rangers in wartime football. After a brief spell in Glasgow he moved on to London, where he played for Arsenal in England, still at an amateur level. In 1947, Guðmundsson became the first Icelander to play professional football, when he signed with Nancy in France and later AC Milan in Italy.
Ásgeir 'Sigi' Sigurvinsson is widely regarded as one of the greatest players Iceland has ever produced. He had a successful career in Germany, where, in 1984, he captained Stuttgart towards winning the Bundesliga for the first time in 32 years, earning himself a player of the year nomination.
Other notable players from the latter half of the 20th century include Pétur Pétursson, Guðni Bergsson, Atli Eðvaldsson and Arnór Guðjohnsen - Eiður Smári Guðjohnsen's father.
A New Beginning
In the early 2000s, the Icelandic Football Association realised it needed to revise its approach from the bottom up. In 2002 it began strategic reformulation of the coaching education they provided, eventually receiving A and B licences from UEFA.
Another important step was the rise of indoor training halls. With Iceland going through an economic boom, significant amounts of funds went into building quality training grounds, both indoors and outdoors, that were available all year round. The youth teams now had a chance to practice their technique despite harsh winter weather or wet summers.
The Football Association’s plans began to bear results. In 2011, the men's U21 team reached the final stages of Euro 2011 in Denmark. The core of that team would later move up into the first team. This is the team that represents Iceland at Euro 2016.
Rise of the Indoor Kids
Lagerbäck and Hallgrímsson's appointment in 2011, marks the moment when things began to turn. Soon after his arrival, Lagerbäck stated his ambition to bring the team to the World Cup in Brazil, 2014. Although the general population cheered, it was considered a bold statement. Yet, Iceland ended second within their qualifying group, and made it into the playoffs, where they were defeated by Croatia.
In 1946, Icelandair teamed up with the national team by flying the squad to Scotland, where they played a series of games considered their first international games away. Ever since, Icelandair has accompanied the national team on their exciting journey which has brought them to the European Championship's final stages in 2016.