Is Iceland’s honeymoon period finally over?

Iceland, a small island in the extreme north of Europe made a history in the Euro 2016 by becoming the smallest country to qualify for the tournament. A country with a population of just 350,000 won the hearts of millions in the tournament as they performed brilliantly and came over the odds to make it to the quarterfinals of the tournament where they lost to the hosts and runners-up France. In the process to quarterfinals, they managed to hold on the eventual winners Portugal to a draw in the group stages which they topped and in the round of 16, they overcame much more fancied England team in a 2-1 win and fought bravely in a loss against the hosts France.

In the aftermath of the tournament, Iceland team and their fans became extremely popular among general football fans due to their unconventional way of celebrating which prompted EA to put the team and the celebration in the FIFA game. Due to the series of impressive performances in the Euros and friendlies, they managed to draw themselves as the top seed in the qualification for the FIFA World Cup 2018 where they were grouped with Croatia, Turkey, Ukraine, Kosovo, and Finland. Unsurprisingly, Iceland topped the group with winning 7 out of 10 games and once again made the history by becoming the smallest country ever to appear in a World Cup.

During this period, A lot of things were going well for Icelandic players and many of them moved to bigger clubs. The main beneficiary of this was Gylfi Sigurdsson who moved to Everton from Swansea for a then-club record fee of  £40 million. A lot of other players also did well at their respective clubs such as Gunnarsson at Cardiff and Gudmundsson at Burnley.

During the FIFA World Cup draw, they were drawn with Argentina, Nigeria, and Croatia which was somewhat a tight group but they were expected to make it through to the round of 16 as Nigeria usually choke at the group stages and they had already faced and beaten Croatia in the qualifying campaign for the tournament and Argentina barely made to the competition and were not at their best in recent times. Anyways, the build-up to the competition for Iceland was not ideal as they had failed to win even a single friendly before World Cup and were handed heavy defeats from Latin countries, Peru and Mexico.

In the World Cup, Iceland began impressively against the heavyweights Argentina as they held on to a draw thanks to a penalty save from Halldorsson and it was a huge boost up for them in their quest for advancement to the next stage and Furthermore, when Argentina were embarrassed by Croatia team to a 3-0 loss, People thought that the rest of Iceland matches were just a formality and they had one foot in round of 16 but all that had stopped when the next day, Iceland were shocked by Nigeria, thanks to a splendid performance and a brace from Ahmed Musa means they had to beat Croatia which was an uphill task as Croatia had been performing really well in the tournament. As it was expected, Croatia won against Iceland and Argentina’s last minute winner against Nigeria, Iceland went back home disappointing not just the nation but a lot of general football fans who fell in love with them during Euro 2016.

Despite poor performance, Iceland’s past results and a really good qualification campaign for the World Cup, They were drawn in the Group A (top-tier European teams) in the newly formed Nations League but they had been drawn with Belgium and Switzerland and not much was expected from them but in the first match against Switzerland, they were embarrassed to a 6-0 loss and in the second game against Belgium, they lost 3-0 which got many people thinking that if the purple patch which Iceland had experienced since 2014 was finally over and they will now be no more than a punching bags for top-tier European teams in the Qualification competitions. Seems like team made up of handful of amateurs were finally catching and the element of surprise which this team had, is finally exposed.

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featured image credit daily telegraph