Size doesn’t al­ways mat­ter


The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION - John Roe

Imag­ine lit­tle David kick­ing big Go­liath’s butt. Imag­ine a roar­ing mouse mak­ing a lion run away. Imag­ine an an­gry min­now fright­en­ing off a great white shark.

Now imag­ine the tiny na­tion of Ice­land — pop­u­la­tion 330,000 and half of Hamilton’s — bat­tling its way to a place in the planet’s sec­ond big­gest sport­ing event, the World Cup of Soc­cer.

As sce­nar­ios go, they might all seem as im­prob­a­ble as they are worth cheer­ing. Who doesn’t love see­ing the un­der­dog have its day? But in Ice­land’s case, no stretch of imag­i­na­tion is nec­es­sary.

A few days ago, a de­ter­mined team from this iso­lated, storm-swept, vol­canic is­land in the North At­lantic earned it­self one of the 32 spots at next sum­mer’s World Cup in Rus­sia.

This achieve­ment is as ex­tra­or­di­nary as, just a few years ago, it would have been im­pos­si­ble to pre­dict.

It’s also an ex­am­ple to ev­ery­one — on both a hu­man and sport­ing level.

Ice­land is the least pop­u­lous coun­try to ever win a berth at the World Cup and the only one with fewer than one mil­lion peo­ple.

It has no pro­fes­sional soc­cer league. The team’s coach is a part-time den­tist.

Only five years ago, this soc­cer team was ranked 131st in the world out of 211 coun­tries.

And at that point, it had never made it to a ma­jor tour­na­ment.

But the coun­try had de­sire, a plan and was will­ing to in­vest money in soc­cer.

Over the years, Ice­land trained hun­dreds of highly qual­i­fied, li­censed coaches — more per capita than soc­cer gi­ants such as France or Ger­many — to teach chil­dren how to play.

It built 30 full-size all-weather soc­cer pitches, seven of which are in­doors, and an­other 150 smaller, ar­ti­fi­cial are­nas. Kids can play year-round, whether it’s sunny, rainy or snow­ing.

The core of Ice­land’s squad has been to­gether more than a decade.

They truly play like a team and not, as is the case for some coun­tries, as a dis­jointed col­lec­tion of mega-rich prima don­nas.

As a re­sult, Ice­land made it to the 2016 Euro — Europe’s soc­cer cham­pi­onship — beat­ing World Cup semi­fi­nal­ist Nether­lands on the way. Once there, Ice­land ad­vanced to the quar­ter fi­nals.

That might have been enough of a Cin­derella story for some coun­tries — a one-hit won­der grand­par­ents could tell the chil­dren about dur­ing a long win­ter. But Ice­land was just warm­ing up. To qual­ify for this com­ing World Cup, it topped a group that in­cluded for­mi­da­ble foes such as Croa­tia and Ukraine.

Last week, Ice­land trounced Turkey, a na­tion of 80.7 mil­lion peo­ple. Turkey won’t be in Rus­sia next year. Nor, for that mat­ter, will the United States of Amer­ica, a coun­try of 325 mil­lion peo­ple with an es­tab­lished pro­fes­sional league. A loss to Trinidad and Tobago, pop­u­la­tion 1.3 mil­lion, sealed its fate.

But as Ice­land just demon­strated, size doesn’t al­ways mat­ter.

Here’s to the Davids, the mice, the min­nows and Ice­land.

Our reach should ex­ceed our grasp be­cause there is a heaven — on or off the soc­cer pitch — that awaits.

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