Fans looking forward to facing Croatia
27 October ~ Reaching the play-offs for a major tournament had not been realistic for Iceland until now. In the past we have produced some good footballers but the current national team is filled with young talent who have come into their own during this qualifying campaign, especially in the latter stages, such as when they came back from three down to draw 4-4 in Switzerland. The average age of the starting line-up for the final qualifier against Norway was only 26.9. Only two of the 11 were over 30 – Eidur Gudjohnsen, who is 35, and Kari Arnason, 31.
It is even more promising that our best players are also the younger ones; Spurs midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson is only 24, the same age as Aron Gunnarsson of Cardiff and Heerenveen forward Alfred Finnbogason, while fellow striker Kolbeinn Sigthorsson of Ajax is 23.
The feeling here is that this could be the start a very good period for the team, who have been improving steadily under coaches Lars Lagerback and Heimir Hallgrimsson. Our youth teams have been doing exceptionally well, with the Under-21s second to France in their qualifying group for the 2015 European Championship after running them close a couple of weeks ago in Reykjavik, where France won 4-3. Our Under-17 and Under-19 teams also went through the first qualifying round for the European championship, the Under-19s knocking out France in the process.
The home reaction to this success has been ecstatic. Around 3,000 Iceland supporters – nearly one per cent of the island's population – were at the Ullevaal stadium in Oslo to see the team make it through by drawing 1-1 with Norway, while rivals Slovenia lost in Switzerland.
Everyone around the team is realistic when it comes to the games against Croatia in mid-November. The players have been saying that they have nothing to lose, and there is a feeling that if Iceland can contain the star names such as Luka Modric and Mario Mandzukic, then anything is possible.
The Football Association of Iceland have been bombarded with emails and phone calls from the public and local businesses anxiously waiting for information about when tickets go on sale. Laugardalsvollur, the Icelandic national stadium, only holds around 9,800 spectators, so the demand is much higher than the supply.
Icelandair, the biggest airline in Iceland, have already sent out an advert for package deals to Croatia and one travel agent announced directly after the draw was made that they were planning on taking a plane of Icelanders to the game. We will not go down quietly. Johann Olafur Sigurdsson