Iceland’s first participation in a FIFA competition could be described as low-key, but the unheralded north Europeans lost no time in raising their profile thanks to a historic 5-0 opening victory over CONCACAF U-15 champions Honduras, with help from supersub Helgi Gudjonsson.
Having watched impatiently from the bench as his team-mates surged to a 2-0 lead during the first half, the promising goal poacher from Fram Reykjavik’s youth academy finally got his chance to shine at the start of the second period and duly obliged by extending Iceland’s lead with virtually his first touch. The substitute added another midway through the second half, before capping a virtuoso performance - and a landmark victory - completing his hat-trick seven minutes before full time.
"[Gudjonsson] was the best player on the pitch," Iceland coach Freyr Sverrisson told FIFA.com when asked who would get his vote for man of the match. "He has always been our team's main striker. When I put him on in the second half I told him his main task was to score goals, which he did with aplomb."
*Following in Eidur’s footsteps *"I’m delighted to be able to score so many goals," the bashful teenager said once the victory celebrations had died down. "It’s the first time we’ve taken part in a major international competition and this victory means a lot to us, I’m very emotional. I’ll tell my family the good news as soon as I can and we’ll share the victory together."
Iceland may be a footballing backwater but it also produces more than its fair share of fans’ heroes, the most famous of whom is possibly Eidur Gudjohnsen, the senior national team’s all-time leading scorer. The former Chelsea and Barcelona forward is clearly someone whom his near-namesake Helgi idolises: "I hope I don’t just have a similar name to him, but can also become a star like him,” enthused the precocious striker.
In between preparing for the Youth Olympics, the young Gudjonsson watched a lot of television coverage of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ and the player that fascinated him most was another swashbuckling forward, Nethlerands winger Arjen Robben. However, the Icelandic youngster knows he has to make the most of his talents if he wants to follow in his idols’ footsteps: "My specialties are shooting and seizing chances. If I had to choose then I’d prefer to be a penalty-box poacher."
*From outsiders to medal prospects *By brushing aside Honduras, a nation almost 30 times bigger in population terms, Iceland showed their true colours and instantly transformed from rank outsiders to Group C favourites. For this tiny nation of 300,000 people, their moment of glory has arrived. "We at least want to win a medal," said Gudjonsson.
This first shot at a major title has been a long time coming, explained head coach Freyr Sverrisson: "We qualified for the Youth Olympics in April last year after beating Finland and Moldova in a four-team European qualifying tournament. From that point on we started preparing and already a year and a half has since passed.”
But having made such a good start, it is now time to do the country proud, he adds. “Iceland is a small country with a tiny population, but the whole nation is like one big family. This is the first time we have taken part in a major competition like this. It’s a rare opportunity, we have to win a medal."
And the biggest attraction in becoming an Olympic medal winner? "We can bite it [on the podium]," concludes Sverrisson with tongue firmly in cheek.