With a population of just 329,100 in an area measuring around 103,000 square kilometres, Iceland is among the smaller nations in Europe. However, when it comes to women’s football, the country is anything but overshadowed by its much larger rivals. Iceland currently lie 20th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking, leaving teams such as Russia, the world’s biggest nation by area at approximately 17.1 million square kilometres, in their wake.
The women’s national team have qualified for the past two UEFA European Championships, making it to the quarter-finals in 2013 – progress that greatly pleases head coach Freyr Alexandersson. “We’re creating many good players and have footballers in good leagues and good teams,” explained Alexandersson, who took charge of the side after Sigurour Ragnar Eyjolfsson stepped down in September 2013.
“Of course we still have players who can develop and improve,” he continued. “We’re struggling a little with our league at the moment but trying to make it stronger year by year. The clubs are currently doing a good job; they and the Football Association of Iceland are all pulling in the same direction and trying to build up women’s football step by step. But we’ve got to be patient and at the same time very ambitious,” he concluded.
Following Switzerland’s lead
Part of this ambition is to qualify for a FIFA Women’s World Cup, an achievement that has so far eluded the Icelandic side. “We’ve done a great job going to the last two European Championships and we were very close to going to the World Cup this time,” recalled the 32-year-old, who also coaches top-flight men’s side Leiknir.
“Iceland isn’t a very big country. When we go through a generational switch in the team, like we have done in the last 18 months, it takes its toll,” Alexandersson explained. “Although that can be tough, we managed it very well and today we have a very strong team. We lacked a little bit of luck with the timing of the qualifying games for the World Cup. Our last qualifiers were very good and if we had managed to get to the play-offs, I think we would have gone all the way to the World Cup. However, that will come in the future,” he added assuredly.
For the Iceland coach, Switzerland are a prime example of what is possible. The Eidgenossinnen sit just one place above his side in the world rankings and will compete at their first FIFA Women’s World Cup this year. “Switzerland have done an extremely good job in the last, I would say, ten years,” he said. “The team are excellent; they are very well organised and have both good young players and superstars in their squad. Every small country in Europe should look at what Switzerland has done, because their team are absolutely fantastic,” the former defender said in praise of the Alpine republic, before adding that women’s football in Iceland is on the right track and enjoying great popularity. “We Icelanders are always very open-minded and want to succeed in everything we do,” he explained. “There is huge respect for the women’s national team and women’s football in Iceland.”
Next stop the Netherlands
Qualifying for further major tournaments will be sure to increase this respect for the national side and the women’s game in general, something Alexandersson believes will impact not only on those connected with the sport, but also the young girls that will form the basis of future Iceland teams.
“The UEFA EURO in Sweden was a very good tournament with a lot of supporters, great venues and good games,” the head coach said. “The World Cup in Germany four years ago was a similar success. These big tournaments have a huge impact on the interest in women’s football. We’ve all got to keep following this path and build up the game together.”
It is a route that should lead Iceland to the next European Championships. “Our future goal is to go to the Netherlands and play at EURO 2017,” he confirmed. “Now we have to focus on getting there and on building up good national youth teams. Hopefully we can develop some stars for the first team and for women’s football in general.”