If your're a fan of underdog stories, pay attention. Watching the team play is like watching a mouse roar. It leaves you with one question: How?
Iceland qualified for a major tournament for the first time in 2015 after finishing second in Group A of qualification for Euro 2016, losing only two games, and beating the Netherlands, who had finished third in the 2014 World Cup, twice.
How Iceland should be ranked
According to FIFA’s official rankings, Germany is the world’s best soccer team but I say FIFA is wrong. As of today Iceland’s men’s national team is ranked thirty-fourth out of 209 FIFA- recognized countries. It’s by far the smallest country in FIFA’s top 50. To put this in better perspective, adjusting it by population Iceland is the number one country by a wide margin, with 417 people for every FIFA point. This would put Germany in thirty-ninth place out of 50 with 46,955 people per point.
Growing up as a football player in Iceland
The EUFA A and B license are required if you want to work as a coach in a professional club and youth coaching. The licensing structure has done a great deal to standardize the level of instruction the players receive, and in general the more qualified coaches a country has the better that country is at soccer. At the end of 2013 Iceland had 563 EUFA B and 165 EUFA A-licensed coaches, that may not sound like much but it’s more coaches per capita than either Spain or Germany.
In Iceland it does not matter how big or small the village is, they all have qualified coaches. They have the same development no matter where they live. That is something that not every country can proudly say. Coaching is only one aspect of the country’s sporting evolution. In the mid-90‘s, Iceland’s soccer facilities were fairly poor. In the winter time playing was difficult if not altogether impossible. Playing on gravel was their only choice.
The facilities today
In the last decade Iceland has built over seven full-sized and four half-sized indoor football fields, and we have 5-a-side artificial pitches on the school premises at every children’s school in Iceland. Probably every club in the country has some kind of an artificial pitch that we can use 12 months a year.
As a result, Iceland has produced a lot more talented young players over the last decade than it ever has before. Iceland can produce top young players, but to test yourself as a professional you have to be ready to sacrifice, preferably at the age of 17, and be willing to live alone in a foreign country.
Icelandic players have a reputation for endurance and a fighting spirit. They’re known for being patient and hard working. They are said to have this spirit that goes way beyond football—to business, to just about anything. The inner desire and hunger for achieving something more. The kids in Iceland have a good opportunity to play the sport, but going from nothing to something and then going from something to something bigger, demands a lot of hard work.
This mentality has made for a fiercely united national team. The infrastructure and the coaching provide the launch pad and the fact that many of the players grew up together and have played with one another for years makes it easier to have the understanding of each other and that is always beneficial.