76 days to go to the AFC Asian Cup, UAE 2019

Iceland warm to Russia 2018 as smallest nation ever to qualify for World Cup finals

By Andrew Warshaw

October 10 – They’ve done it again. All predictions that Iceland would be one-hit wonders after their sensational appearance at Euro 2016 have been well and truly crushed after they became the smallest nation ever to reach a World Cup finals.

The Euro 2016 quarter-finalists, who knocked out England in the last 16, have a population of about 335,000 and are now the only country to qualify for a World Cup with fewer than one million inhabitants.

Gylfi Sigurdsson and Johann Gudmundsson got the goals on Monday in 2-0 win over Kosovo, sending the country into raptures once again as the team continued to defy the odds.

The previous smallest country to have reached a World Cup was Trinidad & Tobago, in 2006, which had 1.3 million people.
But now the all-too-familiar Viking clap, which has been adopted by fans across Europe, will be on show again in Russia.

“Are you kidding! We are going to the World Cup!” the local TV commentator bellowed as the final whistle blew and fireworks erupted over the Laugardalsvollur national stadium.

“This is really odd, I don’t know what to say. I mean … Pelé, Maradona and (Iceland captain) Aron Einar Gunnarsson,” said manager Heimir Hallgrimsson, a former dentist who took sole charge in 2016.

Gunnarsson has no doubt that Iceland, ranked 22nd in last month’s world FIFA rankings, deserve to be in Russia having won seven of their group games.

“After we lost against Croatia (in the 2014 World Cup playoffs) we aimed at qualifying next time.  In my opinion we were in the most difficult group with Croatia, Turkey, Ukraine and Finland. The hardest thing was to get going again after our massive party in France, but we decided that we were just going to finish this. We had no interest in some playoff bother.”

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