On Monday, England’s future stars lost to their Icelandic counterparts in what many deemed a shock result. But to those who have kept up with under-21’s qualifying campaign, Iceland beating a bigger nation could not have been any more expected.
A lot of talk this week in the English press has been about Jack Wilshere and Andy Carroll potentially playing for the under-21’s this summer in Denmark. Should they choose to participate, they could once again come up against the Icelanders.
Iceland qualified for their first ever under-21’s tournament, albeit through a qualifier, at the expense of Germany. The reigning champions. The same Germany whose conveyor belt of youth talent embarassed England in the last World Cup. The same Germany whose youth system England fans have roundly called upon our FA to copy. Many would have had the Germans nailed on to qualify from the group that also featured San Marino, Czech Republic and Northern Ireland.
The impressive Czech’s topped their group, and Iceland finished second, setting up a two-leg qualifier with Scotland to see who joined them. A 2-1 victory in Reykjavik was followed up by another 2-1 victory in Edinburgh to send the Icelandic’s through.
Both goals on that night in Scotland were scored by ex-Reading man Gylfi Sigurdsson, the pioneer of Iceland’s golden future. Sigurdsson left Berkshire last summer and moved to Hoffenheim in Germany for, by Championship standards, a huge £6million fee.
Sigurdsson is joined in the youth ranks by West Ham’s Holmar Eyjolfsson (scorer of the winner vs England), Coventry’s Aron Gunnarsson, AZ Alkmaar’sKolbeinn Sigthorsson (Iceland’s top scorer in qualifying) Hibernian’s Viktor Palsson and Viking’s Birkir Bjarnason. All together, they make a strong spine to Iceland’s youth set-up and the senior team for years to come.
This was the team that “surprised” England at the start of the week. Anyone who watched the game will know that Iceland carried the greater threat throughout the game. They play a stylish brand of attacking football. They pass well and aren’t afraid to shoot from range (all four goals in the two legs vs Scotland were from outside the box).
This attacking mentality was evident when they played Germany in the group stages in Hafnarfjordur. They took apart the reigning champions as they destroyed them 4-1, opening the scoring early through Bjarnason. They were pegged back by Germany just after half-time, but this just spurred Iceland on and two quickfire goals were rounded off by Alfred Finnbogason (impressive against England also).
It was not as if the Germans were taken by surprise either. This game happened five months after Iceland came from behind twice in Magdeburg to draw 2-2, without Sigurdsson.
Iceland have scored their way to Denmark next year, scoring more than anyone in qualifying (33 overall). A 2-6 win in Coleraine over N.Ireland was added to emphatic wins over San Marino (8-0 at home and 0-6 away).
The senior team failed to qualifiy for the 2010 World Cup, finishing bottom with 5 points of their group with only one win, and are currently in the same position in their Euro 2012 campaign. They have played four games so far and have only one point on the board, making qualification near-impossible.
However, judging by their performance at youth level, the focus of the Icelandic FA is on developing these youngsters for a future assault on Europe. Many of the squad who have qualified for this summer’s tournament will be too old to represent them next season, and it is hard to see all of them not making the step up. They could fall flat on their faces and find the step up in class too much, or they could be like Sigurdsson who has taken to it like a duck to water. I’m more inclined to think they’ll do the latter, and that is why we shouldn’t be surprised if Iceland soon turn into the new Germany.