Iceland: The Challenge Awaiting Them In Russia

The Iceland National Soccer team is one of the 32 teams participating in next month’s FIFA World Cup in Russia. This will be Iceland’s first World Cup tournament and they’re the smallest nation by population to qualify.

This isn’t Iceland’s first major tournament though, as they participated in the Euro 16 tournament, managing to pull off a major upset against England in the first round of the knockout stage. They advanced to the quarterfinals where they lost 5-2 to France. It’s said that Iceland’s fantastic run in the Euro 16 was only the beginning of a golden age for them.

Iceland is now ready for their biggest challenge. They’re drawn into Group D alongside Argentina, Nigeria, and Croatia. Once again, the odds are heavily stacked against them. Iceland has been in this situation before as they were heavily doubted prior to the start of the Euro 16 where they silenced their critics.

Iceland showed the world that they’re not afraid of a challenge in the Euro 16. They were drawn into Group F alongside Portugal, Austria, and Hungary and they managed to finish second in the group. For Iceland to be considered the biggest underdog in that tournament, that should only motivate the squad further in this summer’s World Cup.

Here’s what Iceland needs in order to have a successful run: bravery, cohesiveness, concentration, and talent. Those four qualities allowed them to have a successful outing at the Euro 16 and it allowed them to qualify for the World Cup. Because half of their World Cup squad was part of the team that played at the Euro 16, Iceland possesses a necessary quality for success, which is experience.

The group stage is certainly nail-biting for Icelandic supporters. But if Iceland does exactly what they’ve done since the Euro 16 qualifiers in playing cohesively, well-concentrated, and bravely, they can overcome the insurmountable odds that are not in their favor. Gyfli Sigurðsson, Birkir Bjarnason, Aron Gunnarsson, Afreð Finnbogason, Ragnar Sigurðsson, Sverrir Ingi Ingason, and Kári Árnason are players to watch for Iceland. Half of those players have at least five years of experience of playing at the international level. Because of the talent and experience Iceland has, they’re more than capable of challenging their group stage opponents.

Iceland’s opening game is against Argentina. Iceland must step onto the pitch with focus and without fear and show the world they’re more than capable of challenging Lionel Messi and company. It’s not only Messi they have to watch out for, but also Angel Di Maria, Sergio Agüero, and Paulo Dybala. They need to play as a team. If Iceland can battle Argentina to a draw, it’ll certainly be considered a satisfying result for Iceland.

Nigeria will be Iceland’s second opponent as they have a very young and decently talented squad. However, Iceland may have a slight upper hand in their attack as Nigeria’s defense is very young, which means they lack experience, so Iceland needs to take advantage. However, Nigeria is still not to be taken lightly because they’ve got a strong midfield attack led by team captain John Obi Mikel. Iceland’s defense needs to be ready for anything as Nigeria is capable of sneak attacks especially with striker Ahmed Musa. He is a legitimate threat as he is a talented dribbler, capable of providing great assists and can score. In this one, both teams will have a hard time. Nigeria has to be considered the favorite because of the talent and experience in the midfield.

Iceland’s final Group opponent is Croatia a well-experienced squad with unique caliber. Of course, Croatia’s current squad is nothing like the 1998 World Cup squad that shocked the world, but they’re legitimate. Midfielders Luca Modric and Ivan Rakitic certainly strengthen Croatia’s midfield while striker Mario Mandzukic leads the striking attack. The defense is young and will be led by veterans Vedran Corluka and Domagoj Vida. While Croatia certainly looks to be the more dangerous team, it’s unclear who will come out on top. Between these two squads, anything can happen.

It’s quite clear Iceland has yet to take on their biggest challenge and in less than three weeks, they will take on their biggest challenge. The odds are not in their favor, but Iceland should look to show the world that they’re used to having the odds against them and that they thrive on being underdogs.

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