The photo above shows the Icelandic team saluting their fans after beating England by 2 goals to 1 at Euro 2016. The Icelandic fans in turn returned the compliment by “thunder clapping”. There were apparently 30,000 Icelandic fans following their team during Euro 2016. For a country with a population of only 300,000, that means 1 in 10 of their whole population was in France. There was about 10,000 Icelandic fans inside the Nice Riviera stadium and despite being outnumbered 3 to 1 by the English fans, they made the more noise during the game. Up until recently, Iceland was regarded as a football minnow but after beating England at Euro 2016, they will never be under-estimated again. For this was a thunderclap that was heard around the world.
England 1 – Iceland 2. Iceland had started poorly and conceded a penalty after only 4 minutes. When Wayne Rooney tucked this away, you feared for Iceland for the rest of the game. But Iceland reacted calmly to the early setback and within 15 minutes, had taken the lead. Their first goal was as the result of a long throw in while their second was as a result of quick fire passing on the edge of the penalty box. Their tactic of playing the high line and pressing the English midfielders led to numerous other chances for Iceland in the first half. At half time, Jamie Vardey was introduced and his speed meant England were more of a threat at the start of the 2nd half. But as the clock ticked down, England started to panic and were very wasteful in the last 15 minutes. With 5 minute to go, Rashford was brought on and he was very effective at running at the Icelandic defence but it was all a bit too little too late and England were unable to equalize.
Full time in England – Iceland game at Euro 2016. I had watched the Iceland – England game at a campsite in Bourg Saint Maurice in the French Alps and there was a lot of clapping and cheering around the campsite when the referee blew the final whistle. Obviously, the French like the English as much as the Irish do and the locals were delighted to be playing Iceland in the quarter final rather than England. The game was shown in France on the M6 channel and there was a lot of glee at England’s demise also on their after match show, L’Apres Match.
L’Apres Match TV show. The show was presented by Davide Ginola and Nathalie Renoux and they had 3 pundits in the studio, one of whom was William Gallas, the ex-French defender. Davide Ginola was looking well for a man who had suffered a heart attack and then a quadruple heart bypass operation only a month earlier. The L’Apres Match show went on for over an hour and featured highlights from Iceland – England, a look ahead to France – Iceland and also highlights of Spain’s defeat by Italy earlier that day. Their main feature was about Antoine Griezmann after his outstanding performance during the 2nd half against Ireland when he could have scored 5 goals.
3D holographic interview with the Iceland captain, Ragnar Sigurosson. However, the most impressive part of L’Apres Match was the 3D holographic interviews with some of the Icelandic players. They had a small green studio set up in the stadium in Nice and were able to project a live 3D image of the players into the TV studio in Paris in front of Ginola and Nathalie. All the interviews were in English with the Icelandic players and also with their Swedish joint manager Lars Lagerback. No English players or pundits were interviewed though a reporter did speak to some English fans outside the stadium. The show ended with video clips of French fans singing Griezmann’s On Fire and the Icelandic commentator describing Iceland’s 2nd goal against England. The presentation overall on L’Apres Match was very slick and way ahead of any coverage I watched in either Belgium or Switzerland.
Logo for French TV station M6. The TV rights in France for Euro 2016 are shared between M6, TF1 and BeIn Sports. By beating England., Iceland were due to play France in their next game in Paris the following Sunday. This game was due to be shown on M6 but the 3 other quarter finals were being covered by TF1. The first semi-final (Portugal – Wales) was shown on M6 and 2nd semi-final (France – Germany) was on TF1. However, M6 had exclusive terrestrial free-to-air rights in France to the final between France and Portugal. All games in Euro 2016 were being shown on BeIn Sports in France but this channel is similar to Sky Sports and only available on a subscription to either satellite or cable TV. The broadcasting rights for Euro 2016 in other countries around Europe varied considerably. For example in Ireland, all 51 games in Euro 2016 were shown on terrestrial free-to-air TV (RTE and TV3) whereas in Italy, only about half the games were on terrestrial TV (RAI) and the rest were only available via satellite and cable TV (Sky Italia).
Arguably England’s worst defeat ever. Iceland has a population of 320,000, which is less than County Cork yet were still able to turn over England with a population 200 times greater. There is no professional football league in Iceland while the Premiership is the richest league in the world. Some of the Icelandic players are only part time footballers and one of their 2 managers is a part time dentist. Some of their players have to work on farms and fishing boats to supplement their income but they were still able to beat a shambolic English team.
Vice Sports documentary about Icelandic football.
The emergence of Iceland as a football force was explored by Roger Bennett in this brilliant documentary for Vice Sports called We Are Vikings. He interviews Icelandic players, coaches and fans to try and understand why such a small country has such a good football team. (For some reason, the video won’t embed but you can find it on YouTube here
). The documentary gives a fascinating insight into an incredible football culture in the country. Iceland has a very harsh climate and is mostly barren and with very few outdoor pitches. As a result, the country has had to improvise and over the last 20 years, it has built about a dozen indoor training pitches across the country.
Typical indoor training pitch in Iceland. The Icelandic government has spent millions building indoor pitches inside huge halls up and down the country and also invested in grass roots development over the last 20 years. These indoor halls have artificial pitches inside meaning kids can play and practice no matter the weather outside. Every one of the Icelandic players would have learnt to play football on these small artificial pitches when they were much younger. While most of the Icelandic players were not as fast as their counterparts on the England team, they were much more assured on the ball. No doubt this confidence in possession and technical ability on the ball was learnt at a young age in the indoor halls of their native land.
Underage coaching in Iceland. Most of these indoor pitches are located beside the local primary school meaning all kids get to use the facilities during school term. Sportsdays are common at many schools around the world but the difference in Iceland, is that they focus only on football and all sessions are supervised by qualified coaches. There are over 600 qualified football coaches in Iceland or almost 1 coach for every 500 people. Most of these coaches have UEFA badges and are paid by the Icelandic FA. It is these coaches and the money spent on facilities the last 20 years that is the real reason for the emergence of Iceland as a football force. There are over 200 Icelandic players at clubs overseas, which means almost 1 in every 800 men are earning a living as a professional footballer. In most other countries, it is more like 1 in every 10,000 that makes it as a professional. No doubt it is the focus on youth football by the Icelandic people that is responsible for this incredible statistic.
Iceland’s managers Lars Lagerback and Heimir Hallgrimsson. But despite this huge investment in underage coaching, the Icelandic national team still struggled. In 2009, Iceland suffered a defeat almost as humiliating as England’s at Euro 2016 when they lost 2 – 1 to their much smaller neighbours, the Faroe Islands. The shock of this defeat led to Swedish coach Lars Lagerback being appointed manager of the Icelandic football team in 2011. When he took over, Iceland were ranked 133rd in the world. In 2013, he was joined by Heimir Hallgrimson as assistant manager. By 2016 under both managers, Iceland had risen 100 places to the top 30 in the FIFA rankings. They made it as far as a play-off against Croatia for Brazil 2014 before qualifying for Euro 2016 after beating both Holland and the Czech Republic, both previous winners of the tournament. So their result against England was no fluke but the result of 5 years of continuous improvement under Lars Lagerback and also Heimir Hallgrimsson.
Roy Hodgson resigns as England boss.
In contrast to the acclaim heaped on Iceland’s managers in the wake of their victory against England, the English manager, Roy Hodgson, cast a dejected figure. Indeed, it is ironic that just a few days after Brexit, England were knocked out of Euro 2016 by the only team left in the competition that was not in the EU. It was no surprise that Hodgson resigned just half an hour after what was probably England’s most humiliating defeat ever
David Cameron resigns as Prime Minister. Just 3 days earlier, the British prime minister David Cameron had also resigned after losing the Brexit referendum. But, unlike Cameron, poor Roy was then forced by the English FA to hold another press conference the next day. He was obviously still in shock and his first words to the press hordes in the conference room were “I don’t know what I am doing here”. But it was not only Roy who didn’t know what he was doing as unlike the Icelandic FA, the English FA don’t seem to know what they are doing either. It has been 50 years since England last won a major tournament or even made it to the final of either the World Cup or the Euro’s.. The last time they won a tournament, the World Cup in 1966, is so long ago, they hadn’t even joined the EU let alone left it.
English papers react to their team’s defeat by Iceland. In the last 50 years, the other major European football powers (Germany, Spain, France and Italy) have all won at least 3 major tournaments. It is not a shortage of money as the English Premier League is the richest league in the world. But a lot of that money has gone towards players and agents and relatively little has gone into coaching and training facilities as has happened in Iceland. The last 20 years the British government has been spending millions on Olympic sports and all that lottery funding has paid dividends with lots of medals. But when it comes to football, all the money in the Premier League has made no difference and England have woefully under-performed. The French have a saying “Plus ca change, c’est la meme chose” (the more things change, the more they stay the same) and it certainly applies to England any time they play in a major football tournament.
What an improvement in just 7 years. Iceland got a wake-up call after losing to their minnow neighbors the Faroe Islands in 2009. The same year, Alex Ferguson the Manchester United manager famously called the fans of rival Manchester team, Man City, the “noisy neighbors”. Whether in the years to come, England get a wake-up call from this defeat by their minnow Icelandic neighbors or like Alex Ferguson dismiss this result and the Icelandic fans as “noisy thunder clapping neighbors” remains to be seen.