The Nations of the 21st World Cup – Iceland

Iceland

Iceland National Team


The soccer world’s focus is locked into the sport’s biggest event. Every four years, national pride and footie artistry reach peak levels in a global dance of no small magnitude. This summer, all eyes will be focused on eastern Europe as Russia 2018 draws ever nearer. With the sport’s best and brightest from 32 lucky nations on display, it’s time to take a look at what each squad brings to the table. We will dive beneath the team sheet, scratch beyond the player names, and get you ready to be the smartest on the couch for Russia 2018.

Iceland

Qualifying Record (W-D-L) 7-1-2
Current FIFA World Ranking (April 2018) – 22nd
World Cup 2014 Finish – DNQ
Russia 2018 Group D (Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria)
Formation – 4-4-2
Strengths – Midfield, Nothing to lose mindset
Weaknesses – Depth, Attack/lack of goals
Major Threat – Gylfi Sigurdsson, Aron Gunnarsson

After being an absolute sensation during Euro 2016, it’s now time for Iceland to start to position themselves as an actual constant within European and global soccer. It’s unlikely that teams will underestimate Iceland this time around, but that still might not be enough to prevent this well drilled squad from stealing points and making a big World Cup impact.
Are you a fan of Strákarnir okkar or just really love all National Team Jerseys from anywhere? Remember to buy a jersey now before the tournament starts!

Realistic Federation Goal for RUSSIA 2018:

Sure every country goes into the tournament with the aim of wanting to win the cup but beneath those grandiose dreams, each federation will have some more realistic goals that are based off past experience and the level of growth they think they have achieved over four years (through qualifying games and other matches). For Strákarnir okkar (Our Boys), it still feels like the honeymoon stage. It will be incredible if they can survive a tough group and advancing through any of the knockout rounds would have to be seen as dreamland. However, as we mentioned, KSI will be hoping to settle into being a consistent qualifier and make their first ever World Cup be so much more than a “one and done” style party.


DEFENSE:

Iceland’s defense has been the unspoken factor that has allowed them to start to appear in context with the world’s best. However, it might also be the Achilles heel that could see them watching the knockout stage at home.

The central pairing for Iceland will undoubtedly be Ragnar Sigurdsson and Kari Arnason. Expect to see Sævarsson at right back and Magnusson at left back whenever they are fit. The only player under the age of 30 is Bristol City’s Magnusson (25), and he is the only player in defense with fewer than 50 caps (15). Much like the rest of the squad, Iceland’s defense needs to remain healthy because of the serious lack of experience and the drop off in talent that occurs when one of these players isn’t on the field. Arnason is the oldest at 35, and it will be interesting to see if he is able to chase shadows for three straight World Cup games.

The Iceland defense plays an old-school, no nonsense style of play. Not known for extreme attacks out wide or a ball playing center back, these players exist to allow the Iceland midfield the freedom to push forward. During qualifying, this approach gave them an impressive defensive record. However, despite not allowing one goal in a game for the entirety of 2017, Iceland has allowed six goals in their last two friendlies (both against World Cup opposition). Some of this can be attributed to some rotation to discover proper subs for the current starting 11, but it doesn’t bode well as we move forward into Russia. Despite not having bombing wing-backs, Iceland’s defense gives them one of their best attacking weapons: height. With every defender being 6′ 2″ or taller, this group will give massive headaches to teams like Argentina if a set-piece situation comes along.

Crossing the ball against this lot will not be the brightest idea. The Icelandic defense is more likely to be troubled by teams who can play quick passes and who can move around the final third nonstop, Group D has an abundance of those teams.

Hannes Halldorsson will be the first choice between the sticks, and even a thumping against Argentina would be unlikely to upset the first choice Iceland keeper. Perhaps the one member of this squad whose Wikipedia is more interesting than the rest (seriously, check it out), but Halldorsson is no slouch. Expect strength in the air and few to no mistakes from him.

MIDFIELD

While Iceland tends to field a 4-4-2 whenever they hit the pitch, their midfield possesses two distinct types of players that end up making it feel more like a 4-1-3-2 or the occasional 4-2-3-1 (which appears on the field as almost a 4-5-1) than a standard 4-4-2. This is caused by captain Aron Gunnarsson being a deep lying midfielder who makes sure that Iceland’s defense is never exposed. Despite having 77 caps entering into the World Cup, Gunnarsson only has two goals to his name, this is because he knows his role and rarely is drawn out of his spot. This is what allows the free-flowing Gylfi Sigurdsson his freedom, and that’s the key to Iceland’s success. Against Argentina, expect Gunnarsson to always be within ten to fifteen yards of Lionel Messi in order to try and stifle Messi’s magic for as long as possible. If you want the safest bet in this group (outside of Messi scoring), then Gunnarsson getting a yellow card is almost a sure thing. Gunnarsson also leads the fans in the iconic clap after games, which has instantly become a global phenomenon.

While the captain tends to his defensive duties, Iceland’s star will be trying to carve open defenses and create the goals. Gylfi Sigurdsson will be mentioned in every build-up to Iceland fixtures, but there are more question marks than answers around Iceland’s star man as we approach Russia. With a recent knee injury and a less-than-impressive first campaign with new club Everton, Sigurdsson won’t be heading into Russia with the type of form that saw him explode at the last European Championships. However, even with all that swirling, it would take quite an issue to prevent Sigurdsson from being on the team sheet for the first group match, he’s that important to Iceland.

The player that could be a surprise is Burnley’s Johann Berg Gudmundsson. Gudmundsson was a mainstay for Burnley this season as they landed in 7th in the Premier League. Despite not being a massive threat in front of goal, he’s going to be vital in creating goals (he had 10 assists in the Premier League this season). Gudmundsson works exceedingly well with Gunnarsson and Sigurdsson because of his desire to stay on the flanks. This is what has caused so many teams to struggle against Iceland, as teams simply aren’t prepared for a squad like this to be multi-faceted coming out of the midfield. Much like most of the field, this team will go as far as their midfield will carry them. Their defense is dependable and their strike force is no slouch, but it will be the middle of the field that determines whether Iceland remains just a feel-good story, of if they start to make serious noise at the biggest tournament of them all.

Just like with every section of their squad, there is little to no depth in midfield. The drop-off from the starting 11 to the subs bench is large, and Iceland needs their best players on the field in order to keep the dream of knockout stages alive.

Iceland

Star man Gylfi Sigurdsson

STRIKERS

Kolbeinn Sigthorsson was the starting striker at Euro 2016 but has barely played since because of a knee injury. Sigthorsson is also second on Iceland’s all-time scoring charts, but it would be a big risk for him to start the first few fixtures in Russia. Jon Dadi Bodvarsson is the likely beneficiary of Sigthorsson’s injury. With Iceland’s preferred 4-4-2, Bodvarsson will likely be paired with Augsburg’s Alfred Finnbogason up top. While Iceland’s midfield will get the pre-match focus and plaudits, Iceland’s strike force actually had the highest scoring squad in their qualifying group. Both Sigthorsson and Finnbogason are on Iceland’s list of players with the most goals for their country, so anyone doubting their danger in front of goal will be punished.

With the midfield attack of Sigurdsson and the wide play of Gudmundsson, the strikers tend to stay central during play and aren’t utilized as the primary creative force in the squad. Iceland’s strikers will be hoping to drag defenders around the field, open space for the midfield, and attack the six-yard box whenever the ball is worked out wide. The biggest scare here is that Iceland hasn’t scored more than one goal against a team ranked higher than 150th (by FIFA) since drubbing Turkey last October.

All this means that if Iceland finds themselves down by more than one goal, the game may well and truly be beyond their grasp. While there have only been 3 games in the last two years where this group has failed to score, they don’t tend to create massive scorelines. If Sigthorsson and Finnbogason are unable to lift some of the scoring load from the attacking midfielders, this could be a short trip for Iceland.

GAME by GAME (v Argentina, v Nigeria, v Croatia)

*Keys to Argentina game: There’re just too many Argentinian threats for Iceland to deal with without conceding goals. The sheer excitement of being at the World Cup is why we’ll say that Iceland will snag a goal (which will be celebrated like crazy), but we see this game getting out of hand early. Iceland’s height could be a huge plus if Argentina gives up many corners or set-pieces, and it wouldn’t surprise me if this is what Iceland has as their game plan. If Iceland can find themselves in the second half with a close score, putting 11 behind the ball feels like the only way to get points. We’ve seen Lionel Messi and co. get very frustrated if they don’t score early and often. Plus, getting Argentina the first game of the tournament, before Messi can get any momentum just might be a big bonus. Still, it’s Argentina and there’s a good reason they’re one of the top cup faves.
Prediction: Who bets against Messi? Iceland loses 4-1

*Keys to Nigeria game: Find a way to counter the pace and power of Nigeria. While we’d love to wait to predict until after both teams have played their first game, we feel like Iceland will see this moment as their best chance to get out of their group. Nigeria will know that they end the group play against Argentina, so the pressure to down Iceland will be too much to handle.
Prediction: Iceland gets their first WC win in their history: 1-0

*Keys to Croatia game: Croatia will be hoping to use Iceland to propel themselves into the mix to advance from this hard group, so Iceland could take advantage of a team that will be incredibly nervous about this match-up. It wouldn’t be the first time that we’ve seen one team play tight because of expectation and the other squad get points because they’re just happy to be at the tourney. Add in that it’s the last match for both these teams, and the pressure just mounts. However, if Modric is healthy, it’s a wrap. These teams know each other well as they were in the same World Cup qualifying group and they traded home wins during their campaigns.
Prediction: The heart says Iceland, but the head says Croatia 2-1

Iceland World Cup 23

Here’s the Final Iceland Roster for Russia 2018
GOALKEEPERS (3): Hannes Halldorsson, Runar Runarsson, Frederick Schram

DEFENDERS (7): Birkir Sævarsson, Sverrir Ingason, Ragnar Sigurdsson, Kári Árnason, Horour Magnússon, Ari Skúlason, Hólmar Eyjólfsson

MIDFIELDERS (10): Birkir Bjarnason, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Samúel Friðjónsson, Ólafur Skúlason, Aron Gunnarsson, Rúrik Gíslason, Emil Hallfredsson, Arnór Ingvi Traustason, Johan Gudmundsson, Albert Gudmundsson

FORWARDS (3): Björn Sigurðarson, Alfred Finnbogason, Jón Dadi Bödvarsson

Piece by Andrew McCole, frequent Center Circle writer, boot prince, and never walking alone at Liverpool FC.

 

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About the author: Andrew McCole

 

If I may be so bold to condense my immense personality into two words, it would be: soccer nerd. I love everything about the beautiful game and I tend to reflect that in my writing. I suffer through Liverpool fandom and hope that they will win another title before my wife spreads my ashes at Anfield (considering I'm in my twenties, it seems somewhat likely). Although I also dabble in tennis, teaching, and coaching, most of my free-time is spent writing articles for The Center Circle! Feel free to stalk me on Google+

 

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