Following a goalless draw with Kazakhstan in Reykjavik, Iceland managed to confirm themselves automatic qualification to Euro 2016, and more importantly, their very first major international tournament.
When considering the quality of the Icelandic players, this is not a major achievement, boasting a side filled with players from 14 different leagues from around the globe, including the Premier League, Ligue 1 and the Bundesliga.
What truly makes this such a fantastic achievement is that Iceland itself has a minuscule population, roughly 317,000 people.
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That equates to the population of a place like Coventry. No disrespect to Coventry, but it would be nigh on impossible for the city to produce a footballing squad or even a footballing infrastructure even close to being capable of qualifying for an international tournament.
So just how did Iceland do it?
Icelandic footballing history
Iceland historically have not been a football nation exactly, having failed to qualify for any international tournament since their formation in 1930. However in the past twenty years or so we have seen this volcanic nation erupt onto the international football scene. (see what I did there?)
Players like Eidur Gudjohnsen and of course the perpetually relegated Hermann Hreidarsson, helped put Icelandic football on the map.
Gudjohnsen's career has tailed off now as he has aged, but few footballers can boast a resumé as impressive as Gudjohnsen; having played for Barcelona, Chelsea, Monaco and Tottenham Hotspur.
In recent years, however, players such as Gylfi Sigurdsson, Kolbeinn Sigthorsson and Aron Gunnarsson have proven to be part of a “golden era” of Icelandic football.
Nationwide football development
Yet the emergence of Iceland as a international footballing threat is not due to luck by any means, in fact the structure and investment put forth by the Icelandic FA should be mandatory for any small, remote nation; this recent success proves its merit.
The struggle for Icelandic football was in no short part due to the weather; being situated in the middle of the North Atlantic is hardly ideal footballing conditions. Thus in 2002 the Icelandic FA realised the problem; pitches and playing conditions.
Perfectly conditioned footballing pitches just would not work in such harsh terrain and would be a collective waste of money, therefore the Icelandic FA has since built six full sized football pitches all around the nation, over 20 artificial pitches and over 100 mini pitches for youths to play on.
However, it is not just through good pitches that Iceland has been able to thrive, no doubt that has played a significant part mind. It is also through coaching and coaching badges.
Even when coaching at proper basic grassroots level of football, in Iceland you have to have a coaching badge of some sort. Recent facts and figures back this up: “Around 70% of all coaches have completed the UEFA B licence (124 hours) and around 30% have completed the UEFA A licence (120 hours).”
In short, not only do young Icelandic players now have the ability to play, but they also have the necessary coaching behind them to allow them to reach their potential. In a day and age where national football associations are pouring money into schemes and plans to develop their youngsters without doing much research behind them.
Iceland took a step back, recognised its own pitfalls and instead of complaining about them like us English so often do, they attempted to fix it, and so far the results are proving this method correct.
Through a nationwide sporting development that is not restricted to any specific people, Iceland has managed to produce a solid international side.
This, combined with excellent grass-root coaching along with some luck that players like Gudjohnsen managed to develop and establish Icelandic football before mass investment, is why Iceland are going to be seen at their very first international tournament next year.
I for one will be supporting Iceland as my second side, I love the country having travelled their a few years ago and have a soft spot for Gylfi Sigurdsson ever since his Spurs days.
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