‘The Ice Age cometh’ ... Ice­land qual­ify for Rus­sia 2018

Tehran Times - - WORLD SPORTS -

Rus­sia brace your­self — the “Vik­ing thun­der clap” is head­ing your way.

With a pop­u­la­tion of just 335,000, Ice­land be­came the small­est coun­try ever to qual­ify for the World Cup after beat­ing Kosovo 2-0 on Mon­day to en­sure the is­landers topped Euro­pean qual­i­fy­ing Group I.

Trinidad & Tobago, which has a pop­u­la­tion of 1.3 mil­lion, was the pre­vi­ous small­est coun­try to reach a World Cup back in 2006.

Pre­dict­ing Ice­land would now win the World Cup, hu­mor­ous Ice­landic web­site the Reyk­javík Grapevine tweeted: “The Ice Age cometh.”

Ice­land’s Prime Min­is­ter Bjarni Benedik­ts­son was the epit­ome of diplo­macy, tweet­ing: “To Rus­sia with love.”

Ice­land’s suc­cess­ful World Cup qual­i­fi­ca­tion comes less than 18 months after dump­ing Eng­land out of Euro 2016 to reach the quar­ter­fi­nals be­fore be­ing beaten by France.

“Ice­land have qual­i­fied for their first ever World Cup. They’re a bloody good side,” tweeted for­mer Eng­land in­ter­na­tional Gary Lineker, who now works as a TV pre­sen­ter. “Only los­ing 2-1 to them now looks a tri­umph...ish.”

It is es­ti­mated around 33,000 peo­ple — 10% of the pop­u­la­tion — turned up in the Ice­landic cap­i­tal of Reyk­javik to give the play­ers a hero’s wel­come on their re­turn from France back in 2016.

Qual­i­fy­ing from a tough group “I thought after Euro 2016 that the hard­est thing would be to mo­ti­vate our­selves again,” Ice­land coach Heimir Hall­grims­son, who is a part-time den­tist, told re­porters after goals from Gylfi Sig­urds­son and Jo­hann Gud­munds­son se­cured his team’s win over Kosovo.

The fire­works rock­eted into the sky above the Lau­gardalsvol­lur sta­dium to cel­e­brate Ice­land’s suc­cess in au­to­mat­i­cally qual­i­fy­ing from a tough group that in­cluded more es­tab­lished sides like Croa­tia, Turkey, Ukraine and Fin­land.

“The first beer after a party is not the best,” added Hall­grims­son. “The hard­est thing was to get go­ing again after our mas­sive party in France.

“And what’s more in a group con­tested be­tween Croa­tia, Turkey, Ukraine and Fin­land, who are much bet­ter than their po­si­tion in the group would have you be­lieve.

“The suc­cess is not an end in it­self but a long jour­ney to­wards a fi­nal des­ti­na­tion.”

Aca­demic and au­thor Viðar Halldórs­son who wrote “Sport in Ice­land: How small na­tions achieve in­ter­na­tional suc­cess” tweeted: “It’s not genes, it’s cul­ture, or­ga­ni­za­tion and bunch of char­ac­ter!”

Kosovo, which has pop­u­la­tion of 1.8 mil­lion, man­aged to se­cure just one point from its World Cup qual­i­fi­ca­tion cam­paign, but the team coach Al­bert Bun­jaki had noth­ing but praise for Ice­land.

“Con­grat­u­la­tions to the whole Ice­land team and to Ice­landers,” Bun­jaki told re­porters.

“It’s a great ex­am­ple for small na­tions like our own who aim to have a good team, well or­ga­nized, in the fu­ture.”

Ice­land will be one of 32 na­tions at the World Cup in 2018, with the draw for the tour­na­ment to take place in­side the con­cert hall at Mos­cow’s State Krem­lin Palace on De­cem­ber 1.

The 2018 World Cup’s first game will fea­ture hosts Rus­sia on June 14 in Mos­cow’s Luzh­niki Sta­dium.

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