- Iceland became the smallest nation to reach the World Cup
- Avenged heartbreak of missing Brazil 2014 by reaching Russia 2018
- Sigurdsson: “We’re looking forward to seeing the thunderclap in Russia”
Iceland supporters performing the 'thunderclap' is an extraordinary sight. A noisy and visually spectacular display of synchronicity and passion, it has the ability to give those watching – and those taking part – goosebumps.
There was something particularly special about the thunderclap, also known as the ‘Viking Clap’, after Iceland’s 2-0 victory against Kosovo in Reykjavik. Performing the chant as one, players and fans celebrated the volcanic island, with a population of just 335,000, making history by becoming the smallest nation to qualify for the FIFA World Cup.
Gylfi Sigurdsson played an integral role behind Iceland reaching Russia 2018. The Everton midfielder, named Icelandic Player of the Year for the last five seasons, registered an assist and a goal in the decisive final game against Kosovo, taking his scoring tally to four on the road to Russia.
"It was a fantastic feeling," Sigurdsson told FIFA.com. "Leading up to the game you were hoping and wishing you could help the team with a goal, so it was a nice feeling to score in such an important game."
Iceland’s maiden World Cup qualification is anything but a fluke. After the agony of missing out on Brazil 2014 at the play-off stage, the Icelanders stormed to the quarter-finals of UEFA EURO 2016, before topping a fiercely-competitive group consisting of Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach Russia 2018.
"I think over the last four or five years we’ve been playing in really big games," said Sigurdsson. "With the play-offs for the World Cup in Brazil, the games leading up to the EURO, then the EURO itself and now as well, it seems like all the games we’ve been playing lately have been important for us.
"That’s how you want it to be. I think we’ve been improving as well in those big games because five or six years ago we couldn’t really handle them. But now the team is much more prepared for them and we’re a better team as well."
Celebrations lasted long into the Nordic night after Heimir Hallgrimsson’s side finished ahead of second-placed Croatia to secure Group I’s top spot and a historic World Cup berth. The feeling of reaching the global finals tasted even sweeter for Sigurdsson in the context of Iceland’s play-off heartbreak four years ago, when a 2-0 defeat against Croatia in Zagreb ended his nation’s Brazil 2014 dream at the final hurdle.
"Probably looking back, [losing in the World Cup play-offs] was very important for us, because we knew how bad that felt and how disappointed you are when you’re so close and you miss out on it," said a philosophical Sigurdsson. "But it’s two major tournaments in a row now and that’s a great achievement for the country."
Taking on the world
That major tournament experience from EURO 2016 will be invaluable for Iceland, who can take confidence knowing that they have the ability and know-how to perform on the big stage. After progressing from a group at the continental championship that consisted of Austria, Hungary and Portugal, before beating England on the way to the quarter-finals, Sigurdsson has every right to be optimistic ahead of Hallgrimsson’s men taking on the world’s elite.
"We’ll have to see what sort of group we get but I think we’ll have a good chance of making it through the group stage," Sigurdsson said. "We know it’s going to be difficult but we haven’t got anything to lose and I think we’ll go into the World Cup with the same mentality we had going into the Euros.
"It’s something we’ve all been waiting to see happen to Icelandic football - to actually go to the World Cup," Sigurdsson continued. "It’s happening now so it’s just an outstanding feeling and I think all of the players and the people of Iceland are really proud of it. We’ll be looking forward to going to Russia now and obviously seeing the hand clap at a World Cup!"