Eidur Gudjohnsen Blog | The Iceland Story
188BET’s World Cup 2018 ambassador Eidur Gudjohnsen charts the rise of Icelandic football from European minnows to World Cup competitors.
The Iceland Story | June 2018
These are exciting times to be from Iceland. On Friday we take on Nigeria in our second World Cup 2018 game. I thought we played really well against Argentina last Saturday and to take a point from that match was an incredible achievement. I’m constantly asked how the rise of Icelandic football happened, well let me explain.
Firstly, let’s get one thing straight. We were never really the whipping boys of European football like some people suggest. Ok, there were some campaigns were we really did struggle, but we performed very well in USA 94 qualifying and 10 years later on the road to Portugal for Euro 2004.
The real improvements and changes started to take shape around 10 years ago when the government and football federation invested a lot in sports facilities and built a vast number of full size 3G pitches. This investment was significant, and it got a lot of people involved with football that perhaps wouldn’t have been interested in the past. This current successful bunch of players are the first generation to benefit from these investments.
Another key thing in the development of Icelandic football was the appointment of Lars Lagerback as manager in 2012. He was exactly the right person to take charge at that time and everything just clicked. Lars brought in discipline and organisation and changed the sides mentality. His first campaign in charge was in qualifying for the 2014 World Cup. We had an excellent run and managed to finish above the likes of Slovenia, Norway and Albania before losing to Croatia in a two leg play-off for a place in Brazil. At that point I thought it could go either way. Would this be the peak of our achievements or would we kick on from this and get closer to qualification. Thankfully it was the latter.
The European Championships in 2016 were a dream and our win over England will never be forgotten or indeed the draw against the eventual champions Portugal in the group stage. Qualifying for the World Cup though has been the ultimate. It’s the greatest show on earth and we’re part of it this year. For six years we’ve been growing, developing and improving and we’ve found a way to play to our strengths. Now we’re desperate to make an impact in Russia, you’d be a fool to write us off.