Monday, October 13, 2014

Iceland Stuns Netherlands

So generally we focus on MLS or the U.S. Men's National Team, but when a team like Iceland, who has never made it to a World Cup or European Championship, stuns a team like the Netherlands, it warrants some commentary.

In 12 previous meetings between Iceland and the Netherlands, the Netherlands had won 10 and there were two draws with the Dutch outscoring Iceland 36-6. Only Denmark had amassed more wins against Iceland without a loss (17 and 4 draws) in the nation's history. Back to the Dutch; the Orange had been World Cup Runner's Up 3 times, and won the European Championship back in 1988. They are currently ranked 4th in the world behind only Germany, Argentina and Colombia. None of that mattered today as Gylfi Sigurdsson scored twice in the first half and the island nation stunned the perennial European powerhouse 2-0. So how did this happen? This wasn't the Dutch B Side. The Netherlands trotted out a starting lineup that included 9 members from their 2014 World Cup Squad. Only Gregory Van Der Wiel and Ibrahim Afellay, both members of the 2010 team that lost to Spain in the World Cup Final, weren't in Brazil this summer. Of the 14 Hollanders that saw the pitch, only 22 year old substitute Quincy Promes had never been on a Dutch World Cup roster. Let's take a look at the clubs these guys play for too, because I think it's important to paint that picture. The 14 Dutch players play for 13 different clubs: Ajax (Netherlands), Paris Saint-Germain (France), Lazio (Italy), FC Porto (Portugal), Galatasaray (Turkey), AC Milan (Italy), Olympiacos (Greece), Manchester United (England), Queens Park Rangers (England), Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine), Bayern Munich (Germany), Schalke 04 (Germany), and Spartak Moscow (Russia). You've probably heard of a few of those. Now, by contrast, let's look at Iceland's squad:

Goalkeeper - Hannes Þór Halldórsson - 30 year old keeper who plays for Sandnes Ulf, currently in last place in the Tippeligaen, the top league in Norway. In 2013, they finished 13th, narrowly avoiding relegation.

Defender - Ragnar Sigurðsson - 28 year old defender who joined FC Krasnodar of the Russian Premier League in January. Sigurðsson has been a member of various levels of the Icelandic National Team since 2001. Krasnodar is currently in 6th place in the Russian Premier League.

Defender - Kári Árnason - 32 year old defender who has been a part of Iceland's Senior National Team since 2005. Árnason helped Rotherdam United (England) move up from Football League One to the Football League Championship last season.

Defender - Theódór Elmar "Teddy" Bjarnason - 27 year old defender who joined Danish side Randers FC, Lee Nguyen's former squad, in 2012. Randers is currently in 3rd place in the Danish Superliga allowing just 7 goals in their first 10 games.

Defender - Ari Freyr Skúlason - 27 year old defender who plays for Odense BK (OB) in Denmark. Skúlason has been playing with various levels of the Icelandic National Team since 2003.

Midfielder - Birkir Bjarnason - 26 year old midfielder who plays in Italy's Serie B with Pescara. He's scored 4 times for Iceland in his career, once in a friendly against France, and 3 times during World Cup Qualifying.

Midfielder - Gylfi Þór Sigurðsson - No stranger to scoring at the International Level, the 25 year old Sigurðsson scored 16 goals with Iceland's youth National Teams (U-17, U-18, U-19 and U-21) and after today's brace has 9 goals for the Senior National Team. He's scored in all three of Iceland's Qualifying matches now with goals against Turkey and Latvia as well. He also tallied 4 goals during 2014 World Cup Qualifying and notched his first international goal against Portugal during Euro 2012 Qualifying. He currently plays for Swansea City, but also spent a pair of seasons with Tottenham Hotspur.

Midfielder - Aron Gunnarsson - Iceland's Captain is just 25 years old but is already closing in on 50 CAPs. Gunnarsson is now in the midst of his 7th season in the UK spending 3 years with Coventry City before joining Cardiff City in 2011. Gunnarsson scored his first international goal in Iceland's 3-0 win over Latvia on October 10th.

Midfielder - Emil Hallfreðsson - 30 year old midfielder who has logged over 100 matches in Italy's Serie A with Hellas Verona. He played with the Tottenham Hotspur reserves from 2005-2007.

Forward - Kolbeinn Sigþórsson - 24 year old striker who has been with Ajax Amsterdam since 2011. In just 26 matches for Iceland's Senior National Team, he's scored 16 goals including 4 during 2014 World Cup Qualifying. His 16 goals are good for 3rd all-time among Icelanders.

Forward - Jón Daði Böðvarsson - 22 year old striker who plays for Viking FK in the Norwegian Tippeligaen. He's scored 5 goals for Viking this season and tallied his first goal for Iceland's Senior National Team in September in the win over Turkey.

Substitute - Birkir Már Sævarsson - 29 year old defender who plays for SK Brann, currently in second-to-last place in Norway's Tippeligaen. He's been with Brann since 2008.

Substitute - Rúrik Gíslason - 26 year old midfielder who plays for FC Copenhagen in Denmark, who are currently in the group stage of the 2014-15 Europa League. He scored in the win over Latvia on October 10th and now has two goals for the Senior National Team.

So there you have it. One player (Sigþórsson, Ajax) who's currently alive in the UEFA Champions League. And the entire 22-man roster has fewer goals (44) than Holland's Robin van Persie (48). None of that has mattered so far though as Iceland have outscored their first three opponents (Turkey, Latvia and the Netherlands) 8-0 while jumping to the top of Group A in the Euro 2016 Qualifying Tournament. Still a long way to go before this Cinderella story gets legs, but if you're looking for an underdog to root for, look no further.

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