Thunderclaps and Ronaldo: Iceland’s incredible rise to international success

Had circumstances been different, and Harry Kane wasn’t taking corners, I may well be writing about how England won the Euros in 2016. Instead, I am talking about Iceland. A country with a population of just over 300,000 and a national team just 71 years old. Fun fact, the country is home to 14x more people than Iceland Foods currently employ.

What is there to be said about such a diminutive country both geographically and in the football world? Well, before two years ago, not an awful lot. But since 2016, Iceland have enjoyed a mesmeric rise on the international stage, qualifying for consecutive major tournaments, having previously never qualified for the World Cup or European Championships in their 71 year history.

When Cristiano Ronaldo is quoted talking about your footballing style, however derogitory he may have been about it, you know you are making an impact. After Iceland drew 1-1 with eventual champions Portugal in their Euro 2016 opener, Ronaldo bitterly stated: “I thought they’d won the Euros the way they celebrated at the end”. A frosty response, having been kept at bay by the rigid Iceland unit.

Iceland qualified from group F with an unbeaten record ahead of a morose Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal. This earned them a round of 16 tie against Roy Hodgson’s England and what happened next was truly unprecedented. In the 4th minute of said game, England were awarded a penalty and, lo and behold, we scored it! Some say that was the most absurd thing that happened that day. For the 300,000+ Icelanders, they were thunderclapping their way through to the quarter-finals as they overcame the early deficit against an apologetic England side.

Unfortunately, this is where their remarkable journey ended as a red-hot France team thawed the heroic Icelanders. Fast forward two years, and Iceland have qualified for their first ever World Cup finals. Unfortunately, they have been pitted against World Cup regulars Croatia and Argentina along with an exciting Nigeria side and it will take another momentous performance to recreate the heroics of 2016.


Bobby Robson scored England’s fastest ever World Cup goal in 1982 when England met France in the group stages.

The goal was scored in front of 44,000 spectators in the Spanish city of Bilbao, and hit the net just 27 seconds after the game kicked off. The Three Lions went on to win the game 3-1 as they came out as group winners.

England’s route to certain World Cup glory (probably…)

Isn’t this just the most wonderful time of the year? A time of optimism and hope. The habitual hype around this ‘new and improved’ England team has well and truly set in. But just take a minute. Imagine this year it actually happens. After 52 years of waiting … England win the World Cup. Well, here is how we might go about doing just that. 

We kick off our World Cup bid on the 18th June when we play Tunisia in Volgograd. With only one win at a World Cup to their name, I expect this Tunisia side to be overwhelmed by England’s strength in depth, as we ease our way into the tournament with a 2-0 win. In the meantime, the intimidating Belgians will be trouncing a pitiful Panama side who are doing their best impression of the year 7s trying to get their ball back after the year 11s have nicked it at lunchtime. We fall second in Group G on goal difference after matchday one. 

The next week consists of building our hopes up even higher after we managed to secure 80% of the possession against a semi-professional Tunisian side. Harry Kane failed to score against Tunisia, sending ‘Arsenal Twitter’ into a frenzy. The Wenger-in, Wenger-out brigade flood out of the woodwork to take aim at the Tottenham man. @WizardOfOzil tweets for the first time since May, stating: “Great goal by Rashford. Waiting for Kane to claim this one as well lol”. 

The next matchday swings around just six days after the first, where we take our turn lashing at the fall guys of the group at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium. This game is set up for our players to embarrass the nation, just as you will embarrass yourself attempting to pronounce the name of the stadium down the pub. After a boring opening 30 minutes, typical of Southgate’s style, Kane will pop up with his first ever goal at a tournament. Arsenal twitter retreat once more. After the nerves are settled with this goal, we go on to score four more, knowing this would be enough to take us top of the group if Belgium fail to score more than two without reply against Tunisia. England go two games without conceding a single goal at a World Cup Finals and Jordan Pickford is pictured in the papers the following day as a vast brick in an England shaped wall, beneath the headline: “YOU’RE JUST ANOTHER PICK IN THE WALL”. 

Questions start to be asked whether this is the greatest England team since ’66. An interview with Southgate goes viral, as it is revealed he has a still from the Nike advert where he is depicted as a God on his bedside table at the hotel. It is reported that Raheem Sterling has had a bowl of cereal in the hotel restaurant. Again, no one cares. Meanwhile, Jamie Vardy makes the most of the four-week holiday and is pictured enjoying a bucket of WKDs in the bars of Repino. Set to be given a hero’s welcome when he returns to England in a few weeks’ time. 

So, it comes down to this. The last game of the group against Roberto Martinez’s Belgium. When Kevin De Bruyne was informed he’d be playing for the ‘Red Devils’ in the summer, he was reportedly relieved to discover that this is the national team’s nickname, and he won’t have to play for Jose Mourinho. Jamie Vardy receives some respite when he is informed the game will kick off at 7pm, giving him ample time to nurse his WKD and Bacardi induced hangover. It is 6:30pm in your local pub and the England diehards are twelve pints down the line. By this time, Clive (the one with three lions tattooed onto his right calf) is spouting a load of nonsense criticising Southgate’s choice of formation, still livid that Gerrard was playing left wing at the 2010 World Cup. 

England are pegged back for much of the game, but a bleary-eyed Jamie Vardy tucks away a chance with aplomb in the 80th minute and we progress from Group G with a 1-0 win. The nation erupts into a state of rapture, and beers go flying from every corner of the land. Your phone is switched off because father duties will have to wait for now, and you carry on celebrating, like we have won the whole thing, late into the night. 

Hangovers nursed, kids picked up, and England shirt freshly ironed, it is time for the round of 16. Poland are our opponents having come second in Group H and the self-acclaimed experts on European football have a field day, informing everyone that forward Arkadiusz Milik has had a blinding season for Napoli – the aficionado only saw him play once in a Champions League game. When Milik gets subbed off in the 60th minute having had an awful game, that same enthusiast will cover his back saying he must still be suffering from that knock he picked up against Sampdoria. 

Once we have brushed aside a frail Polish side, it’s quarter-final time, and we are rewarded with a tie against Brazil. By this time, Southgate has got wind of Sterling’s unforgiveable behaviour at the breakfast table, and he is dropped from the starting XI. Pictures of the manager start to circulate back home, and it turns out he has grown a healthy head of hair and a full beard, imitating Steve Carell in Evan Almighty. Before the game, Southgate embraces Brazil’s Gabriel Jesus like a long-lost son – the success is really getting to his head. 

As expected, it is a cagey affair and England appear very solid at the back. Low and behold, just before half time, Dele Alli pops up with a thirty-yard screamer which is accompanied by a silly little dance that’d have Roger Milla cringing as he watches on from a pub in the heart of Cameroon. We go in at the break 1-up with the country’s hopes still very much intact. Apparently, don’t quote me on this, but apparently, if you held your Foster’s glass up to your ear and listened just close enough, for that 15-minute interval you could vaguely hear the national anthem on repeat. I guess we’ll never know. Maybe the beer was just starting to take effect.  

After a very quiet second half, Brazil equalise through a goalkeeping blunder. Well, it wouldn’t be a World Cup without one. You remain frozen in a state of vacillation, as you grasp that bet slip that reads ‘BOTH TEAMS TO SCORE’, but you decide to keep it quiet and slide it back into your pocket. So, the sides head into extra-time and Southgate plays his hand by bringing on the dissident Raheem Sterling, who will be ready to perform after that ever so well-documented breakfast he had in the morning. Ten minutes later he goes and nets the winner as he toe-pokes in a rasping Kyle Walker cross and the nation erupts. Southgate is interviewed after the game, stating: “I knew what I was doing” as he gracefully toys with his brilliant beard. ENGLAND ARE IN THE SEMI-FINALS! 

By this time the nation is sent into a frenzy, unsure of how to behave in this unfamiliar territory we now find ourselves in. Providing France beat Portugal in the other quarter-final, we will face them in the semis on Wednesday 11th July. Keep it free. We will definitely be there. Absolutely. Probably. 

It’s matchday and the players are out warming up in the Luzhniki Stadium. Get used to the pitch, lads, this is where we will be playing the final in four days’ time. After he scored twice against Man City with blue hair, Paul Pogba has daringly stamped the St. George’s Cross on the top of his head. But, that is about as close as Pogba got to the English all game, as the ‘Three Lions’ have the game of their lives, winning 3-1 with Kane putting two past his Tottenham counterpart. Beautiful. 

Fast-forward four days and it is time for the long-awaited final. It has been 52 years since we stuck four past the Germans in a World Cup final and guess what… after they beat Spain in the other semi we’re playing the buggers again. Sports Direct stores across Scotland have sold out of Germany jerseys. Some will say it’s because they don’t want England to win, some will say it’s a strong protest opposing Brexit, as they show support for their European counterparts. Take your pick.  

The game kicks off in Moscow and a hush falls across our great nation. A hush of immense anticipation. Fans too nervous to speak, too nervous to cheer. 52 years of hurt has been leading to … oh, we’re 1-0 down. Maybe it was just one step too far. Southgate’s hair has turned white in the process of the tournament and the England players look dead on their feet. Germany go close a few more times and the half-time whistle rescues our boys.  

Dragging their feet, the England players are reeled into the dressing room, where Southgate sits upon his throne, unleashing the hairdryer treatment on his floundering players. Reports say that John Barnes was invited into the dressing room to sing his verse from World in Motion for most of the half-time break. Whatever happened, it worked, as England come out firing nicking an early goal, levelling the score. This goal opens the game up as the Germans start to lay siege on the Tommy’s goal. The English retreat and take cover as shot after shot is fired in their direction. But, rare relief comes in the 89th minute as we win a corner from a counter attack and guess who runs over to take it. That’s right, Harry Kane. Roy Hodgson rubs his hands with glee in the executive seats, turning to his wife as lipreaders spot him saying, “I told you so”.  

Gareth Southgate, in an unprecedented move, ushers goalkeeper Jordan Pickford up for the corner, who in turn sprints to the German trench in acquiescence. The corner flies in and lingers in the air for an age. Pickford, who hasn’t broken stride all the way from his own goal line leaps into the air like an Alaskan salmon and makes contact with the glistening ball, sending it gracefully towards the top corner as it grazes Manuel Neuer’s fingertips. It’s in. We’ve won. Tears flow into the Thames from every which way. THIS IS ENGLAND!

Thoughts on the 2018 World Cup England squad

Exciting. Energetic. Talented. But where is the experience? Only five players have played at a World Cup before, and between them they have made only nine starts. Lionel Messi alone has made 15. Cristiano Ronaldo has made 13. Spanish legends Sergio Ramos and Andres Iniesta have made 23 appearances between them. All of whom will be playing at this year’s edition.

So, what hope do England have, then? The mission objective for these young players will be to compete against ageless World Cup talents, with many having no experience whatsoever of senior tournament football on the international stage.

Well, Southgate will be encouraged by the club performances of his 23 players. Star men Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling both enjoyed their most successful goalscoring seasons in the league last year as they netted 30 and 18 goals respectively. In spite of these impressive stats, both players failed to shine at the last major tournament: Euro 2016. Despite playing for 240 minutes, Kane could only manage four shots on target the entire tournament with Sterling making even less of an impact, getting a single shot off in three matches.

What can often be said of youthful teams is they are fearless, and this is the stance that Southgate is taking when challenging his critics. With only three players in the squad currently aged 30 or over, most of the players have their entire careers ahead of them and by no means is this tournament a ‘make or break’ for them. For many teams such as Argentina and Spain, there is additional pressure to perform well in Russia as it will likely be the last tournament legends like Messi and Iniesta compete in.

England fans who have waited four years for this month of football to come around will not be impressed by a group of players who are using this competition as a learning curve. Southgate rebuffed this claim, however, arguing that anything is possible with England and it “wouldn’t be acceptable” to write off England at any tournament.

From a personal perspective, I do not believe this year’s batch is better than or even equal to squads we have assembled in recent years. However, there are, without question, match-winners within the 23-man list. Yes, many will argue that Adam Lallana or Jack Wilshere should be featured due to their unquestionable talent. But with them both being out of favour with their club sides, Southgate was right to leave them out.

We must turn to those players who not only have shone in the Premier League this year, but who also will suit Southgate’s personal brand of football. If he can get the most out of his three or four star players, there is no doubt that this England team could go far in this competition. Yes, there is an obvious lack of experience and yes, there is less strength in depth to the squad than many other nations, but the sheer quality that will be featured in our starting 11 will give us a chance to win any match against any opposition.

Southgate announces his 23-man squad for this summer’s World Cup.


Gareth Southgate has revealed the 23 players he will take with him to Russia in just under a month’s time. Standout omissions include midfielders Adam Lallana and Jack Wilshere who, despite their lack of game time, are still outstanding talents.

In his press conference following the announcement, Southgate stated he didn’t intentionally pick a youthful squad and instead picked the players who he believed best suited his and the nation’s philosophy.

The 23-man squad and 5-man reserve list is as follows:


Jack Butland, Jordan Pickford, Nick Pope


Trent Alexander-Arnold, Gary Cahill, Phil Jones, Harry Maguire, Danny Rose, John Stones, Kieran Trippier, Kyle Walker, Ashley Young


Eric Dier, Dele Alli, Jordan Henderson, Fabian Delph, Jesse Lingard, Ruben Loftus-Cheek


Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling, Danny Welbeck, Jamie Vardy


Tom Heaton, James Tarkowski, Lewis Cook, Jake Livermore and Adam Lallana

These players make up the third youngest English squad to ever travel to the World Cup Finals, sparking criticism of the manager and coaching staff who many believe are treating this year’s competition as simply a learning curve.

The manager has rebuffed these claims stating that “I don’t think when you play or are involved with England you can ever write off any game or any tournament. That wouldn’t be acceptable,”.

World Cup experience is certainly lacking as only five players have kept their place in the squad from the 2014 edition, with none of them having participated in more than one World Cup Finals before. Granted, in the four years since that tournament, world-class talents have emerged from the youth sides such as Harry Kane and Dele Alli. However, with teams such as Germany and Spain having World Cup veterans in their squads, this year’s tournament may be nothing more than a learning curve for our youthful squad.


Officially the 28th best team in the World, Senegal will be hoping to repeat their successes in the 2002 edition. 16 years ago, Senegal went unbeaten in the group stages and famously beat a world-class France side 1-0.

In what will be only their second ever World Cup appearance, Senegal have been pitted in Group H this time round, along with Japan, Colombia and Poland. They will rely on Liverpool’s talisman Saido Mane to steer them out of this tricky group and repeat their successes of 2002.


After 29 minutes of the first semi-final in Belo Horizonte four years ago, Germany were already 5-0 up against Home nation Brazil.

Goals from Müller, Klose, Kroos and Khedira x2 inside the opening half hour broke the record for fastest team to score 5 goals at a World Cup finals!