|In qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, Iceland finished second in their group, above Norway and Slovenia but well adrift of leaders Switzerland.
They reached the playoffs but were defeated by Croatia.
Not many people outside the country thought a great deal of it and it appeared as though Iceland’s great chance of qualifying for the World Cup had slipped away. However, a tremendous Euro 2016 qualifying campaign saw them reach the tournament in France and they made the quarter-final, defeating England along the way.
Iceland and their fans were a breath of fresh air at Euro 2016 but their qualifying group for the 2018 World Cup looked difficult, with Croatia, Turkey and Ukraine.Nonetheless, Iceland continued to perform and with 7 wins from their 10 games, they finished top of the group to seal their place at the World Cup finals for the first time in their history.
The goals were shared around the team in qualifying for Russia, with Gylfi Sigurdsson ending on 4 goals, Alfred Finbogasson on 3 goals and two players netting twice. There is not one main man in terms of scoring goals for Iceland but Sigurdsson remains their star player.
The Everton attacking midfielder provides the quality in the final third, possessing a great passing technique and is also dangerous from set-pieces. However, Sigurdsson has been struggling with injury and has not enjoyed a great first season at Goodison Park. If Sigurdsson is not fit or below his best, Iceland could struggle win what is a very tough group.
Every World Cup tournament has a so called ‘group of death’ and in Russia it is the group containing Iceland, Croatia, Argentina and Nigeria. If you had looked at this group four years ago, Iceland would be given little chance of making the Round of 16 and even with their recent success, coach Heimir Hallgrímsson has his work cut out.
Their opening fixture is arguably their toughest as they meet Argentina in the Otkritie Arena, Moscow. Despite a poor qualifying campaign, Argentina remain many peoples favourite to lift the World Cup this summer and Iceland will be looking at ways to keep Lionel Messi quiet. If they can succeed and prevent the Barcelona forward from dictating the game, Iceland may have a chance of taking a point.
Iran almost held out for a 0-0 in the 2014 World Cup until Messi struck late on with a great goal and Iceland will be keen to do the same.
It’s the matches against fellow European qualifiers Croatia and the second game against Nigeria which will be key.
Iceland have the organisation, passion and work rate to get out of this group but they may lack a little for pure footballing talent in comparison to the other three teams. By keeping games tight and causing problems on the break and from set-pieces, Iceland could spring a shock and defeat one of the other teams in the group but it would be a surprise to see them in the Round of 16 this summer.