First the numbers. Out of 330,000 inhabitants, 33,000 are regular players, 23,000 are laid-off, 3,000 are adults, and only 100 are professionals. If Iceland (34th in FIFA rankings, ed.) managed to send 23 players to the Euro 2016, one wonders if they did not conduct a national draft like in the army. However, "Our boys" (the nickname of the team, "Strákarnir okkar" in Icelandic, ed.) qualified for the quarter-final of the European tournament and will face the host country, France, next July 3rd at the Stade de France. This is huge enough to caress the dreams of an entire country and cover newspapers the world over with tributes to a Viking nation. The knockout round against England was watched by 99.8% of the population; 10% say they are willing to travel to France, requesting transport facilitation from the government. “This country of amateur players,” as Heimir Hallgrimsson, the co-selector, described it, has become, in the space of 4 matches, a nation that breathes only for the soccer ball.
How will it all end?
Like all good stories, there is an explanation. Iceland is not there by chance. Fallen into group A of the Euro 2016 qualifier round, the country began by desiccating Turkey (3-0) and beat the Netherlands twice (third place winners of the 2014 World Cup, nonetheless). Since the start of the official competition, the Icelanders have never lost. The reason? A nearly impenetrable defense made up of men well over 6 feet 2 inches, and a practicality to rival Germany. In the last game against England, they never seemed worried about the anemic attacks of the opposing team. In short, these are the northerners who held the wall against the White Walkers.
So, what the hell are they doing?
Not wanting to feel too disoriented, the Icelanders settled into a four star hotel in front of Lake Annecy. In an interview by BFMTV, the director of the establishment confided to dealing with a very quiet group that celebrates its victories with pasta carbonara and round table discussions. At best, the team and staff are discovering honey and Crozets (a Savoie pasta, ed.), and playing ping-pong and mini-golf. Very sober.
With a red beard, the mug of a butcher, and a naval battle scene tattooed on his chest, Aron Gunnarsson would have made the perfect villain in an issue of The Adventures of Tintin. At 27, he is the captain of the most acclaimed team since the beginning of the Euro 2016. A true legend in his hometown, Akureyri (the Viking with a tender heart) plays year round for Cardiff Football Club (second division of the English League, ed.). In the game, Gunnarsson is famous for his secret shots (long throw-ins) which he owes to his past as a handballer, a sport in which the country excels. In an interview with the website Goal.com, he said, "One can have arms twice as big as mine, it won't change anything. It all depends on how you throw the ball, not the strength with which you do it." Very clever, too.
Don't worry les Bleus, it's going to be all right.
Hover your mouse over the Kattegat Vikings' hair.
The Big Deal
Let's be serious for a minute. If Iceland's footballing path is considered "beautiful" or even "awesome," it is mainly because their strategy relies on... defense. If they are called "brave" and "combative," it is mostly because they cannot do otherwise, given a sometimes garish technical inferiority in the midfield. So yes, soccer is that also. But those who still quiver before the great Viking battles know that best tactic of the men of the North was to attack.
What you'll hear about Our Boys
Stories about #PetitPoucet (Hop-O'-My-Thumb), a thousand references to the Vikings, a hundred bad jokes with the suffix son, lots of data on the number of the country's inhabitants, and a reference to Björk.