Nobody quite knew what to expect from Iceland at UEFA EURO 2016. True, they had put paid to the Netherlands’ hopes in the qualifiers, but what could they hope to achieve at the finals? Three weeks on, we know the answer, with Lars Lagerback’s team having left an indelible mark on France 2016, as did their fans, whose Viking war chant will resonate for a long, long time.
Not content with beating Austria and finishing above Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal in Group F, the Icelanders went on to knock out England and then go face to face with the tournament hosts at the Stade de France in the quarter-finals. Those magical moments will live long in the memories of the 23 players who made them happen. Following the 5-2 defeat to France that marked the end of their epic run, they shared their views with FIFA.com.
A brave face
“We’re feeling mixed emotions right now,” said goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson, the first to venture his thoughts. “We didn’t expect this defeat and we’re disappointed. It’s going to take us a while to get over it, though generally speaking we’re really pleased with what we’ve achieved. We’ve experienced some amazing things here and the people of Iceland are very happy with us.”
Taking a similar line, team captain Aron Gunnarsson accentuated the positive: “We’re very proud, even though we lost today. The first half was really tough, but we showed in the second what we’re capable of and we gave our fans something to shout about.”
As a grateful Gunnarsson went on to explain, the Icelanders touched hearts not only in their homeland: “We’ve had messages from all over the world. People from some pretty faraway places have been right behind us. I know fans like to see underdogs do well, but we’ve exceeded even our own expectations. We’re very flattered.”
Gunnarsson’s goalkeeping team-mate added that even they were surprised to make it all the way to the last eight: “It was a dream of ours, but the fact is that we never thought it would happen. Just getting here was a fantastic achievement, but then we went and qualified unbeaten from the group. And beating England was historic. Sadly, it all came to an end against France, but I’m sure we’ll have very fond memories of it all.”
Sights set high
Unlike his colleagues, Alfred Finnbogason sensed they might enjoy some success, and pointed to the mindset of the team as the key to achieving it. “It sounds strange, but we knew we could do well,” said the forward. “That’s the way we see things. We’ve always been very positive. We prefer not to see obstacles and we don’t think about what might happen. We just focus on what we can do.”
The Augsburg man also had warm words for the fans, who contributed as much to the spectacle as the players: “It was getting a bit mad at the end there. It was great to be able to give them so much enjoyment. I hope what we’ve done here inspires our children and future generations to go out and surpass what we’ve done.”
Giving an even more passionate response to Iceland’s unlikely adventure was Gylfi Sigurdsson. “We dreamed of doing well here and what we achieved was fantastic,” he explained. “We finished in the top eight of the competition. We still can’t believe it and it’s a shame that it had to end here. It was incredible all the same.”
Excited responses for exciting times. No one who saw it will forget Iceland’s France 2016 saga. The question is, is this the last we will be seeing of these heroes?
“No way!” boomed Finnbogasson. “We don’t want to stop here. The qualifiers for Russia 2018 are about to start, and we’ll have to come back down to Earth pretty soon and focus on them. We’re going to carry on making history.”
If he and his defiant team-mates are to be believed, we have not heard the last of the now-famous “Huh!” chant that rang round the Stade de France as Iceland’s unbowed warriors took their leave.