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Iceland World Cup Team Guide: Confidence and quality means the knockout stages is the target


Iceland World Cup Team Guide: Confidence and quality means the knockout stages is the target

Group of Death or no, the Icelandics will once again be a threat to more established nations.

Team Strengths And Weaknesses

Four years ago, in the lead-up to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, it appeared for a time that this tiny island nation, located just at the edge of the Arctic Circle, 66° North, Iceland was also on the precipice of qualification.  All that stood between them was a two-legged playoff with an old fan “favorite” nation, one that has become something of an international rival, Croatia.  One of the states that was formed with the breakup of the former Eastern Bloc of Yugoslavia, along with Serbia and Bosnia & Herzegovina. 

Iceland ended up losing that playoff, however, they faced the Croatians again in Group I of the 2018 World Cup qualification, and irony of ironies, the two nations find themselves in Group D in Russia, along with Argentina and Nigeria, in what on paper looks like the strongest group, tip to tail, in the 2018 World Cup.

As for team Iceland, they are a more mature squad than four years ago, they still have the core of “Golden Generation” players in their squad, Gylfi Sigursson - Aron Gunnarsson - Johan Gudmundsson - Björn Sigurdarson are all in their prime.  Between 26 and 29 years old, playing at large clubs across the European continent. 

The heart and should of the Icelandic national side comes down to two players, Everton’s Sigurdsson, who is coming off a serious injury but will play in the World Cup. He saw action in the Norway match ten days ahead of the opener against Argentina, scoring a goal less than two minutes after coming on the pitch.  Captain Aron Gunnarsson of Cardiff City is the kind of player who is the first man on the pitch when practice begins, and the last one to leave when practice closes.  Aron is the hardest working player on this team of hard-working players. 

On the other side of the ball, Iceland has no 30-goal striker to call upon.  There is no Sergio Aguero or Lio Messi who scores goals for fun, this means Iceland must remain disciplined and stingy with the ball.  They cannot afford to make any mistakes. Iceland is used to playing under this kind of pressure, it is their preferred method

Iceland to beat Croatia - 5.20

The Manager

Since the 2016 European Championships it has been an Icelander that has led this team from the bench.  Before current manager Heimir Hallgrimsson, a practicing dentist from Vestmannaeyjar, also known as the Westmann Islands, a small community off the SouthWest coast of the main Island.  Heimir has a background as a professional player in the Icelandic leagues, as well as managing both in the men’s game and the women’s game professionally. 

Before Heimir took over as the full-time manager of the Icelandic men’s team there was a power-sharing agreement in place, whereby Swedish manager Lärs Lägerbeck.  “Lasse” as he is known in coaching circles is the former national coach of Sweden, from 1998 - 2009, and is the current Norwegian men’s national team manager. 

For five seasons, Heimir and Lasse co-managed the Iceland National team to ever increasing success.  Beyond the near qualification of 2014, the Icelanders not only qualified for their first major tournament at France 2016, but they reached the quarter-finals by defeating England in the round of sixteen.  A result that very much shocked the footballing world. 

Coming out of the European Championships, Heimir has been lauded for his ability to lead this side to first place in Group I, ahead of such rivals as Croatia, who finished second, but still qualified for Russia, Ukraine and Turkey, who have qualified for past World Cups.

How Far Can They Go?

Many are saying the the “D” in Group D stands for Death.  This group does not have quite the old-time qualities of the classic “Group of Death” like the ‘78 group that contained The Netherlands, Italy, and West Germany.  A classic Group of Death.

Group D is very tough however, in the current FIFA rankings Group D looks like this: Argentina (5), Croatia (20), Iceland (22), With Nigeria (48) bringing up the rear.

This begins to look like a very competitive group, until you dig down under the surface a bit, this is where some of the cracks begin to show.  Argentina look to be over-hyped at five.  La Albiceleste had to rely heavily on Lio Messi in the final qualifier against Ecuador, Messi came through with a hat-trick ina 3-1 victory to put them into the World Cup.

Croatia is another team that may look on paper better than they do on the pitch. Yes, their midfield still has some of that old sting, but the rest of the team is not as dangerous as they used to be.  Which leaves Nigeria. This Super Eagles line-up is even more difficult to figure out than past versions.

With everything laid out on the table, and a sneak peek at who Iceland may potentially have to face in a knockout round battle, it looks like a heroic run in the group stage for whomever is in second place, and I would put Iceland in that spot. What will follow is Peru, Portugal or Uruguay.  It appears that even if Iceland were to make it into the knockouts, it will be a short-lived trip.

Iceland to qualify from the group - 3.75

 


 

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