Coach rallies Icelandic ‘army’ ahead of potentially life-changing last-16 clash
ICELAND coach Heimir Hallgrimsson has rallied his “Icelandic army” ahead of Monday’s potentially life-changing contest against England.
Making it to the finals of Euro 2016 was an incredible achievement in itself for a country with a population of just 330,000 and where outdoor football is impossible for large chunks of the year due to the freezing conditions.
The smallest nation to ever grace a major tournament is now preparing to take on the country that gave birth to football, arriving in Nice dreaming of giving their fairytale another chapter.
Iceland are excited and unburdened, but know overcoming England will change their country forever.
“We’ve said previously that this game is a win-win game,” co-coach Hallgrimsson, who is also a qualified dentist, said on the eve of the match.
“They have already won the hearts of all Icelandic people for their performances.
“With a good performance against England tomorrow, they’ll always be winners in my book.
“On the other hand, if we beat England [the players’] lives will change, all our lives will change, significantly.
“Icelandic football will go up in reputation and the way we approach football will be different.
“If you want the best out of life, you have to be ready when the chance is there for you and I don’t think there are bigger chances than this for Icelandic football. “Hopefully we will beat England. “Whichever way this goes, these players are winners already and I am hoping for a good performance.”
A disciplined, focused and cohesive unit, Iceland have proven their ability to upset the establishment both in qualifying for France and upon arrival.
There is a togetherness borne out of the island’s size and the fact so many of the group came through together, creating a spirit Hallgrimsson has likened to the nearest thing Iceland has to an army.
The ‘Cod War’ was brought up in the pre-match press conference – a period between the 1950s and 1970s which peaked when British gunboats mobilised to ward off Icelandic trawlers in disputed waters – and the co-coach knows their best chance of winning is on the pitch.
“I think it was the only time Iceland has gone to war,” Hallgrimsson said with a smile. “We are too few to have an army. “So these guys are the Icelandic army, that’s why everyone is supporting them.”
There is certainly no lack of battling spirit on the field, with Iceland solid at the back, adept at breaking and well drilled from set-pieces.
Hallgrimsson, who will take over sole control of the team when Swedish co-coach Lars Lagerback retires after Euro 2016, added: “What we have to concentrate on is not to concede against England and the day will be good [if we don’t].”
RALLYING THE TROOPS: Iceland coach Heimir Hallgrimsson