Icelandic student brings pride to Patea

By John Maslin

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It's a long way from Patea in South Taranaki to Reykjavik in Iceland; about 16,900km in fact.

But being a world away from her homeland doesn't mean Rebekka Petursdottir hasn't been caught up the euphoria of her tiny homeland taking on the world's footballing giants in the European Championship - and winning.

Rebekka, 18, is spending a year at Patea Area School as an exchange student and yesterday she was savouring the fact her nation was through to the last eight after beating heavyweights England 2-1.

GO MY TEAM: Exchange student Rebekka Petursdottir from Iceland celebrates her nation's win over England in the European Championship.PHOTO/STUART MUNRO
GO MY TEAM: Exchange student Rebekka Petursdottir from Iceland celebrates her nation's win over England in the European Championship.PHOTO/STUART MUNRO

She has yet to watch any of the Iceland games live and now they keep winning she's loath to.

"I don't want to watch them live because I think if I do they'll lose," she told the Chronicle.

Instead she went home to her host family yesterday and watched the replay of her team's stunning performance.

She's been in touch with her family back home: "My dad and little brother are huge soccer fans. The family had a massive barbecue at home when the game was on."

Rebekka said Iceland came to a virtual standstill during the match.

"Dad said all the stores had signs up saying they were closing for the match while the big supermarkets all closed down as well."

Even airline flights were held up. "I had some friends on a flight home to Iceland who said their plane waited on the tarmac as the game was on so passengers could watch it on their cellphones," she said.

After yesterday's match she posted on Snapchat that she was "really proud to be Icelandic", and that got responses from friends around the world on similar student exchanges.

"This is Iceland's first time ever in such a big tournament so the country's just going mad over this," Rebekka said.

Iceland only has a population of 330,000 - about the same as Christchurch - but it's reckoned 10 per cent of them are in France following this team of over-achievers.

"I know for the game against England we got 9 per cent of the tickets and the English got the rest. But I know all of them would have been singing 'I'm Home' (the supporters' theme song)."

Beating England was more than just Iceland's greatest sporting success.

Monday was a moment of national triumph in a country where the team's improbable progress from the group stage had already outshone coverage of Saturday's presidential election.

It's by the far the smallest country to qualify for a European Championship, defeating an England team that has been the model for Icelandic football for decades.

Next up for the tiny Nordic nation is host France in the quarterfinals on next Monday.

But while everyone in Iceland will be watching, don't expect Rebekka Petursdottir to be. She doesn't want to jinx the team's fairy-tale run.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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