While all English eyes were on Wembley this week as England sealed their place in Brazil next summer, many football fans could be drawn to a less appetising climate this November.
Following a 1-1 draw to Norway, Iceland have won over the hearts of fans the world over with a triumphant campaign seeing them into the World Cup Qualifying playoffs.
While theirs was certainly one of the least glamorous groups in the European draw, this achievement should not be down played.
Drawing on a population comparable to Coventry’s, Albania and Cyprus – who held up the foot of the table – were able to pick from a far wider pool of talent.
However, more significant were the teams at the top of the table. Switzerland were confirmed as outright winners before the final day, as expected, but their main contenders were expected to be Norway, or Slovenia at a push.
Boasting Premier League talent such as Vegard Forren, Alexander Tettey and captain Brede Hangeland, Norway’s strong backline was expected to make them a formidable force in the group.
But it was Iceland who signaled their downfall, with Rotherham United’s Kari Arnason on the scoresheet in a 2-0 win at the start of the campaign.
Yet, while the uneducated observer will attribute victories to the climactic advantage they have at home, away from home Iceland sealed eight points from their six games, beating Slovenia and Albania.
Perhaps the moment this side showed their intent in this group was during a thrilling 4-4 fight back in Bern.
From 4-1 down, Kolbeinn Sigborsson of Ajax and a hattrick from AZ Alkmaar’s Johann Berg Gudmundsson demonstrated the strength of Iceland’s European exports.
With Premier League stars Aron Gunnarsson and Gylfi Sigurdsson, as well as veteran Eidur Gudjohnsen lining the squad, the quality in this side should perhaps have surprised fewer than it has.
Yet as they eagerly await their draw, Iceland can expect to have the already-qualified world behind them, as they look to put their wits against France, Portugal or Sweden among others to book their place in Rio.
Image courtesy of Foxsports Asia