Af góðu upphafi vonast góður endir.
That is an Icelandic proverb that translates to “A good beginning makes a good ending,” according to Wikiquote.
Ber er hver að baki nema sér bróður eigi.
That’s another one that translates to “Bare is the back of a brother-less man.”
Engum flýgur sofanda steikt gæs i munn.
Here’s one more that roughly means “There will fly no fried goose into the sleeping man’s mouth.”
And those three proverbs tell you a lot about everyone’s new favorite team at the 2018 World Cup: Iceland.
The smallest nation ever to qualify for the World Cup, Iceland had a good beginning with a surprising 1-1 draw against Lionel Messi and Argentina. A team with relatively little star power, Iceland did it together, maintaining composure — and clothed backs — despite having little of the ball (Argentina won the possession battle 77.5 to 22.5 percent, according to ESPN). Two years after breaking onto the international soccer scene with a quarterfinal run at Euro 2016, Iceland didn’t wait for any fried geese, rather it seized its chance and denied Messi his clearest one to earn a historic draw.
Even after a loss to Nigeria in its second group stage match, Iceland is still in contention to advance to the knockout round. But, perhaps fittingly, they are overwhelming underdogs heading into their final group match against Croatia.
How can Iceland qualify for the World Cup round of 16?
Iceland, Argentina, and Nigeria all remain alive heading into the final day of play in Group D on Tuesday. Croatia has already clinched a spot in the final 16 entering play on Tuesday.
Nigeria controls its own destiny, whereas Iceland and Argentina need wins and other results to go their way. Nigeria advances with a win, and could advance with a draw, provided Iceland does not win by a greater margin to take the goal differential tiebreaker. Argentina needs a win and cannot have Iceland win by the same margin or better.
Iceland needs a win and a lot of help. In one scenario, Iceland needs to defeat Croatia AND have Argentina beat Nigeria, but also win by a greater margin than Argentina does. In another scenario, Iceland needs to defeat Croatia by two goals or more depending on how many goals are scored in a draw between Nigeria and Argentina.
Whether you have been thunderclapping for Iceland all along or are just finding a new favorite underdog, here are some of the reasons this team from a tiny island in the North Atlantic is turning into a World Cup darling:
Iceland fans are extremely here for the World Cup
That’s a statistically significant part of Iceland’s population
30,000 Iceland fans in Moscow (about 9% of the population) pic.twitter.com/3JbUXK4KCh— The Sports Quotient (@SportsQuotient) June 16, 2018
Gylfi Sigurdsson is Iceland’s biggest star
The Everton midfielder is the rare high-profile star on a roster filled with many players who play professionally in Iceland. He accounts for almost 40 percent of the Iceland squad’s total salary worth, according to The Telegraph.
But Alfreo Finnbogason scored Iceland’s first World Cup goal
The goal was set up by a Sigurdsson effort that was deflected by Argentina goalkeeper Willy Caballero. The ball dropped to Finnbogason, and he tucked it away to make history.
And Iceland fans celebrated, LOUDLY
You might remember the Thunderclap from Euro 2016
Iceland goalkeeper Hannes Halldórsson stopped Messi
With the score tied and one of the greatest players of all time standing just a few strides away, Halldórsson was up to the challenge.
Overall, he held Messi scoreless on 11 shots to earn the draw.
And he did about the same thing to Cristiano Ronaldo in 2016
In 2016, Iceland tied Portugal, 1-1. Ronaldo took 10 shots, no goals.— Ryan O'Hanlon (@rwohan) June 16, 2018
In 2018, Iceland tied Argentina, 1-1. Messi took 11 shots, no goals.
Iceland vs. Ronaldo and Messi: 21 shots conceded, no goals.
Oh, he is also a director. Hey, Oscars, prepare for the thunderclap
Iceland goalkeeper Hannes Þór Halldórsson isn't just useful at saving Lionel Messi penalties ... he's also worked as a film director and here he is shooting a TV commercial#WorldCup #ISL 1-1 #ARG pic.twitter.com/stb3qeYaCM— CNN International (@cnni) June 16, 2018
His World Cup commercial for Coca Cola will give you the chills
Iceland manager Heimir Hallgrimsson is still a part-time dentist
While he’s more focused on routes out of the group stage than root canals these days, Hallgrimsson hasn’t totally given up his dental practice in Heimaey despite his soccer success.
“It’s a good way to relax,” Hallgrimsson told The New York Times this year. Despite high winds and a looming snow and ice storm, he was heading home for some delayed dental therapy (for himself). “Some coaches play golf, shoot reindeer, whatever — everybody has something,” he said. “But I really enjoy going back home to my clients.”
Iceland, who drew 1-1 with Argentina today, are managed by part-time dentist Heimir Hallgrimsson! pic.twitter.com/Da8fnZKvHX— DentalNursesDirect (@DentalNurses) June 16, 2018
He also stops at the pub to talk tactics before home matches
From The Washington Post:
Get this: Hallgrimsson, the manager, shows up at a pub three hours before national home matches. He meets with fans. “He tells us the lineup,” said Sunna Gudrun Petursdottir, the woman in the Viking helmet. “He tells us [the planned] tactics. And there’s total f—— silence. No phones. And nobody has ever posted anything about anything that goes on . . . . It’s a beautiful thing and nobody would ever do anything to ruin that, however f—— drunk you are. You would never compromise it.”
Which makes sense because Iceland has SO MANY coaches
As chronicled by The Guardian in 2016, the rise of Icelandic soccer has been fueled by an investment in training the coaches who teach the game at all levels.
From The Guardian:
At the end of the last century the Icelandic FA put this into practice. Bolstered by the TV money pouring into every Uefa country, Iceland set up an open, hugely popular training scheme. Currently this nation of 335,000 has around 600 qualified coaches, 400 with Uefa B licences, or one per 825 people. To put this into context, in England this number falls to one per 11,000.
The result is a spread of expertise right down to the lowest level. “Here you need a Uefa B licence to coach from under-10 level up and half of the Uefa B licence to coach under-eights,” Dagur Sveinn Dagbjartsson of the Icelandic FA says. This isn’t simply box-ticking. The Uefa B is one step off the level needed to coach a professional team in England. Yelling dads it ain’t.
And remember that “Iceland beats Argentina, 1-1”
Perhaps inspired by the iconic Harvard beats Yale 29-29 headline from the Harvard Crimson after a classic 1968 football game, Fox announcer John Strong dropped these memorable words at the final whistle.
But Iceland knows some things matter more than soccer
Ahead of its match against Nigeria, Iceland shared a message of support for Nigerian goalkeeper Carl Ikeme, who was diagnosed with acute leukemia in 2017.
Here is Iceland’s remaining World Cup group stage schedule
Iceland earned a crucial point against Argentina, but still faces formidable challenges in Group D.
Iceland vs. Croatia — Tuesday, June 26, 2 p.m.