Size doesn’t always matter
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 roughly the same as Kitchener’s and Waterloo’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 1 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.