After a quarter-final berth against all odds in France two years ago, Iceland’s fairy tale run came to a crashing halt in Russia, returning Heimir Hallgrímsson’s men back to reality. Considering they were grouped against some of the tournament’s most experienced outfits, this was to be expected.
It all started wonderfully for the Nordics on match-day one when they shut out the greatest player of all time in a tense 1-1 draw vs Argentina. While it ended up being a matter of inches and a missed penalty that decided the game, Iceland’s desire to defend in a deep block countered Argentina’s gung-ho approach perfectly and afforded them opportunities.
What many didn’t realize was that Nigeria would take note of this and sit back themselves, putting the onus to attack back on Iceland. With the pressure to create, Iceland found themselves out of their comfort zone and struggled immensely on both sides of the ball, eventually succumbing to the Super Eagles by a score of 2-0. Since emerging on the world stage, Iceland have had success defending as a unit but typically struggle when it’s up to them to take the game to their opponents. As a result, they thrive against the bigger teams as seen through their games against Argentina and England in the past Euro.
If their sudden rise is anything to go by, Iceland will be back on the world stage in four years in Qatar. Next time around, however, they’ll need to diversify their skill-set and use their innovative development techniques to establish a plan B. Without it, their World Cup campaign will be as short-lived and as futile as this one.
By: Gregory Caltabanis
Photo: Haraldur Gudjonsson / AFP