“They keep on writing history” was one of the headlines in Iceland as the national team qualified for UEFA Women’s EURO Sweden 2013. With its remote location in the north Atlantic Ocean part way between Norway and Greenland, creating a niche in an increasingly competitive football world is always going to be difficult for Iceland, a nation of just 300,000 inhabitants.
Yet the national women’s team have done exactly that. Sweden 2013 will mark a second successive appearance at Europe’s elite competition, following Iceland’s debut four years ago in Finland.
And the team’s goalscoring ace Margret Lara Vidarsdottir says with that experience, Iceland are not going to the 12-nation tournament merely to make up the numbers. “I think players and team staff are the ones with the biggest expectations,” Vidarsdottir told FIFA.com when asked if hopes had increased in Iceland compared to four years ago. “It is no secret that we are not going to Sweden just to participate. We have set high targets for ourselves, targets we have already started working towards.”
Iceland reached the continental play-offs in 1997 and 2005 but their long-awaited qualification for a major tournament, and subsequent growth, coincided with the appointment of coach Siggi Eyjolfsson in 2007. Eyjolfsson subsequently carved out his own slice of history as the first coach to lead the nation to a major men's or women's tournament.
Although defeating former FIFA Women’s World Cup™ winners Norway in the qualifying group stage this time around, Iceland were ultimately edged out of top spot by their rivals and reached the finals courtesy of a play-off win over Ukraine. The assignment this July in Sweden is, however, a tough one with Iceland’s group rivals being Netherlands, Norway and European powerhouse Germany.
Vidarsdottir, however, believes the team is ready to make an impact. “I have great faith in the team and the staff behind the team,” she said. “We have built a strong sense of unity and team spirit, working well together for the past six or so years, ever since Siggi Eyjolfsson took over as head coach. Several of the players have played together since they were 15 years old and know each other well. In my view, the team is at the right age.”
Success, Vidarsdottir says, would provide immeasurable benefit to women’s football in the island nation. “Women´s football in Iceland has been growing fast in recent years with more and more young girls starting to play the game,” she said. “It´s seen as a cool thing to be a woman footballer today and girls work really hard to get far in the sport. It is important that young girls have role models and have a dream for their future.
“I must say that we can really feel the support of people in Iceland, the fans, and the excitement will only grow as the tournament draws nearer.”
Despite an injury-hit 2012 Vidarsdottir was front and centre throughout qualifying with 11 goals, which helped to maintain her impressive ratio of nearly a goal a game throughout an international career now in its tenth year. The prolific Vidarsdottir, was also top-scorer for the team four years earlier in qualifying, and in 2011 finished as the joint top goalscorer in Sweden’s Damallsvenskan, alongside famed Dutch goalscorer Manon Melis.
Vidarsdottir like several of her team-mates will be on familiar territory in Sweden, as one of several Swedish-based professionals in the squad, where she plies her trade for Kristianstads.
The 26-year-old is perhaps at the peak of her powers and is primed to make the most of what is a rare opportunity for Iceland to make their mark in the international sphere.
“My dream is to be in top physical shape at the EURO tournament and contribute to the team´s effort in going as far as we possibly can,” says Vidarsdottir. “If I can stay injury free, I believe and hope I will be at the pinnacle of my career and be part of something magnificent with the Icelandic national team. I always play with my heart on my sleeve, I´m so proud to play for my country.”