Playing the Field – The Icelandic Men’s Football Team
While Iceland first participated in the Olympic Games in 1908, it took until 1956 for an Icelander to win an Olympic medal. Considering this relatively recent foray into the international sports world, Icelandic athletes have certainly been stepping up to the plate, field, court or wherever as of late, showcasing their impressive skills in various international arenas. Media attention has most recently been centred on the success of the Icelandic men’s football team, which, for the first time ever, secured a spot in the UEFA Euro 2016 to be held in France. With this qualification, the team has secured the title of ‘smallest country to participate’ in this tournament.
With around 330,000 people, Iceland is less than one-sixth of the size of Slovenia, which holds the title for second-smallest country to qualify for the UEFA European Championship. Though its small population doesn’t seem conducive to such a highlevel of sporting achievements, Iceland has been working relentlessly to improve its facilities. Since the early 2000s, football facilities, coaches and players have popped up all over the country, fostering a fresh new generation of skilled and dedicated football stars. While Icelandic football players have achieved a high level of fame at home, some have even carved a place for themselves in the football leagues abroad. Athletes such as Eiður Guðjohnsen, Gylfi Sigurðsson and Aron Gunnarsson play football in premier leagues in other countries.
Amidst the hubbub around the men’s team, the Icelandic women´s team has aptly noted its own success. At the time of writing, FIFA ranks the women’s team 20th overall, with an average position of 17th since FIFA started its ranking system. While the participation of the men’s team is certainly noteworthy, the women’s team has already been to an impressive two Euro games. Iceland’s success is not limited to football, either. In addition to solid performances in several world championships, the Icelandic men´s handball team secured a silver medal at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. The team went on to claim the bronze medal in the 2010 European Championship.
Icelanders have also found success in the swimming world. In February of this year, Icelandic swimmer Jón Margeir Sverisson set two world records for the 100-metre and 400-metre freestyles while participating in the Parasport Games in Malmö. Eygló Ósk Gústafsdóttir won Iceland’s ‘Athlete of the Year’ award in 2015, for breaking Icelandic and Nordic records for the 200-metre backstroke. Other internationally famous sports stars include UFC fighter Gunnar Nelson and strongman/actor Hafþór Júlíusson, who broke a 1,000-year-old weightlifting record just last year. With all these talented athletes, it’s no wonder Icelanders are psyched to celebrate sports victories abroad, especially, of course, when these occur amidst the lights and hype of the European Championship.
In preparation for the Euro 2016, we feel obliged to say: GO ICELAND!
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