Swansea City midfielder Gylfi-Sigurdsson in action. Image courtesy of ESPNFC
Swansea City midfielder Gylfi-Sigurdsson in action. Image courtesy of ESPNFC

Iceland has made it to EURO 2016! It is the first time it has made it to a major tournament such as this and they together with Czech Republic, and Turkey are in Group A. They qualified after they drew against Kazakhstan on Sunday. Why is this such a significant achievement?

For starters, its the smallest team to send a football team to the Euro 2016. It currently has just over 21,000 registered players compared to Germany and Holland who have over 1.1 million and 1.3 million respectively. The closest Iceland got to qualify in a big football tournament such as this was in 2014 during the World Cup but unfortunately lost to Croatia. What made the winning difference this time around? What were the ingredients that made such a small football team to earn their place in the EURO 2016?

1. Coaching/The Coach

On average, there are more than 600 well trained coaches in Iceland which has a population of just over 300,000. Additionally every club is expected to employ well trained coaches which means that the coaching level in Iceland is one of the best in the world. Lars Lagerback who has been the manager of the national team since 2010, said the win was “as a result of hard work from a lot of people..we have some very good footballers”.

Swansea City midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson and Iceland’s team captain Aron Gunnarsson are such footballers he was referring to. Its was Sigurdsson who scored the goal against Holland that inched them closer to qualifying for the tournament.

Lagerback who is originally from Sweden has had a good track record in as far as ensuring his team qualifies for a major tournament. Between 2000 and 2008, he took Sweden to the finals every year – something no manager has achieved.

Iceland's coach Lars Lagerback. Image courtesy of ESPN FC
Iceland’s coach Lars Lagerback. Image courtesy of ESPN FC

2. Training Facilities

According to the ESPNFC website, Iceland provides excellent training facilities to the young and old and invests in coaching young and up coming soccer players. The country has also had to invest in artificial full-sized pitches as well as small pitches which are used by young kids to train. This development was due to the fact that Iceland has long winter months which prevented the children from playing when the weather was harsh. Today they are more than 20 full-sized artificial pitches around the country up from 7 in 2000 and 150 small pitches for small kids.

In addition to the facilities, the minimum training sessions of an adult is 5 times a week while for a 6 to 10 years old is twice a week.

Telenor arena 0709
Image by Alexander Ottesen

3. The Fans

Another important factor are the fans. When Iceland played Holland and won 1 – 0, more than 3,000 fans attended the match in the Netherlands! This kind of support and dedication the team receives at home and away definitely adds to the improvement and psyche of the players.

This is how they celebrated the win: