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.

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