Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

11 things you need to know about Iceland football

Eleven things you need to know about Iceland football

1) Iceland had a world ranking in the 130s four years ago, but now hover around the 30 mark. This is their first major tournament, and they are the smallest country to ever make it to a major football finals. They drew with Portugal and Hungary and beat Austria in the group stage.

2) There are only 21,500 registered football players in Iceland, a country with a population of just 330,000 which is less than that of Christchurch.

3) Iceland has based its football surge on building football 'houses" because of a climate which is tough, although not as harsh as many might imagine. There are 11 football houses at present, containing a full field, changing rooms, medical facilities, stands etc etc and some hold thousands of spectators. Iceland was hit hard by the global financial crisis six years ago, which put the brakes on constructing these houses.


4) The Iceland manager is Heimir Hallgrimsson, who took the job in 2013. He has still worked part time as a dentist on the island of Vestmannaeyjar , but will give that away to run the national football side fulltiime from now on. His co-manager, former Swedish international Lars Lagerback, is quitting after these Euros.

5) When asked what the secret to Iceland's success was, the manager told Scotland's Daily Record: "You can't have success without good players but our current team have been developed by Icelandic coaches for the last 10-15 years. The coaches deserve credit - 70 per cent of them have a UEFA B Licence and 23 per cent have the A Licence. They develop all players. The best move up age groups. The best girls train with boys up to 16."

6) Iceland gave a warning to teams like England with two victories over mighty Holland in qualifying.

A penalty gave them a 1-0 victory over the Dutch in Amsterdam. "We are all flying now," Hallgrimsson said after the win in September. "This is the biggest achievement in our football history." Gus Hiddink quit as Holland's manager when his team were beaten in Iceland.

7) By the numbers...about 3000 Iceland fans, or one per cent of their population, followed the team to Amsterdam to spur their side on to victory. There are 30,000 fans in France for the Euros. An amazing 98.6 per cent of the population watched the end of the match against Hungary on Iceland TV. Iceland's national stadium holds 15,000.

8) Sixteen Icelanders have played for English Premier League sides. Midfielder Gylfi Sigurosson from Swansea City is their only current EPL player. Former international defender Hermann Hreidarsson, who had more than 300 EPL games, said: "While the love of English football is strong in Iceland, we are a football-mad country for our own teams, which are at the heart of every community."

9) The unheralded squad includes 32-year-old goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson, a film director who directed the video for Iceland's entry in the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest. Halldorsson starred in the initial 1-1 draw with Portugal, making eight saves and setting his team on a path to the knockout stage. Icelandic film studio SagaFilm has a job waiting for him when his football career is over.

10) Iceland's memorable contribution to this tournament includes the histrionics of commentator Gudmundur Benediktsson. He appeared to have an emotional breakdown as Iceland scored their winner against Austria. Benediktsson returned home briefly to quit as assistant manager of struggling KR Reykjavik - who play in Iceland's top division - during the Euro competition.

11) Wondering why all the squad members' names end with sson or ssen? There are no surnames or family names in Iceland - Icelanders use the traditional Nordic naming system, which includes a last name that is comprised from their father's (or mother's) first name with the addition of -daughter or -son. Now you know.


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