Iceland fans on Euro 2016: 'It’s turning into a nationwide romance – we're in love'

With Iceland preparing to face hosts France in the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, three of their supporters explain the secrets behind the team’s success

‘We’ve outsmarted and outperformed our opponents’

Before the tournament I said Iceland was divided between those who thought the moon is a cheese and those who knew that winter is coming: fans were mildly hopeful it wouldn’t be a disgrace, while also realising that bad things could happen. Now that the team has exceeded our wildest expectations, we are in a state of euphoria. My 78-year-old father, Aki Jonsson, was among the spectators who watched Iceland knock England out in Nice on Monday night. I think it was one of the most profound experiences in his life.

The one thing that I keep thinking about is the English reaction to the defeat. Prior to the game the coach and the team could not emphasise enough how Iceland was a tough opponent and how much they were mapping the strengths and weaknesses of the Iceland team. Nobody would underestimate Iceland. But at the final whistle the English players were lying on the grass struck with a lightning of disbelief and surprise. There was a sentiment of being humiliated and it was quickly described as the worst performance ever.

Funnily enough, this is exactly what the Dutch said, both times, when we beat them in qualifying, what Portugal thought after our 1-1 draw, and what Austria thought after our stoppage-time winner against them in the group stage. What has been completely overlooked, and not really understood, is they were all thoroughly outplayed and beaten by a team that knew how to do it. We’ve got the better of our opponents by taking advantage of their underestimation of us.

I also find it liberating to see that football is much more complex than just the technical side of things. Iceland have confirmed that it’s very much a team sport. With the right attitude and fighting spirit you can nullify the advantage of individual technical skills. To beat England is an incredible achievement for Iceland, everybody knows that, but not everybody understands that it didn’t come from just being lucky that day. I dare to say it’s one of the most impressive achievements in football history. Ever. Jon Gunnar Akason

Kari Arnason leads the celebrations as Iceland knock England out of Euro 2016.
Kari Arnason leads the celebrations as Iceland knock England out of Euro 2016. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

‘This adventure is capturing the whole nation’

The mood before Euro 2016 was hopeful, naive and fearless. And fearlessly is exactly how the team has performed so far. The application of the players has been tremendous. What is so fantastic about this adventure is the way it is capturing the whole nation. It’s turning into a nationwide romance – everyone is falling in love with the game. My girlfriend has never shown any interest in football before but is now totally enthralled. And every game is followed by massive parties in the midnight sun. I’m trying hard to get some tickets for the game against France but, of course, it is proving impossible.

While it’s hard to single out individual, our centre-backs have been fantastic. They’ve been involved in key moments at both ends of the pitch. Kari Arnason and Ragnar Sigurdsson have been rocks at the back, but have chipped in with goals and assists too. The team’s discipline has also been important. The lack of suspensions has resulted in a settled starting XI throughout the tournament.

The connection to the fans is special. The team play with big hearts, accept their limitations and know their weaknesses. There are no stars and there’s very little flare. The beauty lies in the way the players work together as a unit. England may have looked abject in the second round, but Iceland had a plan and executed that plan to the letter.

We also have to thank Motherwell fans for bringing the “Icelandic thunder clap” to our shores after playing Stjarnan in the 2014 Europa League. The players caught on to it and started doing it back. It’s just another example of the closeness between Iceland fans and the national team. Alex Alexandersson

Arnor Ingvi Traustason and Birkir Bjarnason celebrate after the winning goal against Austria.
Arnor Ingvi Traustason and Birkir Bjarnason celebrate after Iceland’s winning goal against Austria. Photograph: Srdjan Suki/EPA

‘I would have been happy with any kind of scrappy goal’

The media coverage has focused too much on Iceland’s small population, and I’ve found it a bit tiresome. It infers that the success of this squad is statistical anomaly, rather than the rewards of 10 years of hard work by a group of individuals. I saw them play at Easter Road 5 years ago during the U21 Euro qualifiers and they were brilliant. They dominated the game. Their success at the Euros has surprised me, but not because they have played well, but because the opposition has been below what I expected.

As this was our first major tournament, I thought we’d probably finish bottom of Group F. We had already made history by being in France this summer. Before the first group game I would have been happy with any kind of scrappy goal and possibly a point. To have knocked out both Austria and England and preparing to face the hosts in a quarter-final is slightly surreal.

Despite having such low expectations ahead of the tournament, there was always a remote chance we’d have something to cheer about this summer. We did after all come second in a qualifying group that included Czech Republic and Holland. I was worried we would be parking the bus and playing long-ball football to progress past the group stage. While defensive organisation has been a huge part of our success so far, we’ve also scored goals in each of our four games and shown positivity going forward on the counterattack.

The Iceland team celebrate Birkir Bjarnason’s equaliser against Portugal.
The Iceland team celebrate after Birkir Bjarnason’s equaliser against Portugal. Photograph: Richard Sellers/Sportsphoto/Allstar

Gylfi Sigurdsson has shown his class and composure, Aron Gunnarsson has been an inspirational forceful leader and Kolbeinn Sigthorsson’s work rate up front has been exceptional. To come from behind against both Portugal and England shows a real strength of character. I was hopeful that we would be able to give anyone a game, but to get to the quarter-finals in our first international tournament is really something else. I’m bursting with pride. Eggert Stefansson


Guardian readers and Tom Stevens

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
France coast past Iceland and into Euro 2016 semi-final
France have made short work of Iceland, winning 5-2, to coast into a Euro 2016 semi-final against Germany on Thursday

Dominic Fifield at the Stade de France

03, Jul, 2016 @8:57 PM

Article image
Euro 2016: who will win the last-16 matches and reach the quarter-finals?
The last-16 matches begin on Saturday afternoon when Switzerland take on Poland in Saint-Étienne. Which eight teams will make it into the quarter-finals?

Guardian sport

23, Jun, 2016 @10:11 AM

Article image
France 5-2 Iceland: Euro 2016 quarter-final – as it happened
Iceland’s fairytale came to an end as France cruised into a semi-final against Germany with a blistering first-half performance

Rob Smyth

03, Jul, 2016 @8:54 PM

Article image
Euro 2016: The Guardian’s team of the tournament
Two Frenchmen – Antoine Griezmann and Dimitri Payet – make our team of the tournament, as do Aaron Ramsey, Ragnar Sigurdsson and Ivan Perisic

Marcus Christenson

11, Jul, 2016 @11:44 AM

Article image
Euro 2016: Guardian writers pick their highs and lows from France
From Hal Robson-Kanu’s memorable turn against Belgium, to Antoine Griezmann capturing hearts, plus walking into lamp-posts, our writers give their take on the tournament

Guardian writers

11, Jul, 2016 @10:30 AM

Article image
Euro 2016 power rankings: Germany and Italy on top as England nosedive
The world champions’ meeting with Antonio Conte’s team could be the game of the tournament, but only Wales are left to fly the home nations’ flag

Alan Smith

29, Jun, 2016 @10:00 AM

Article image
Euro 2016 power rankings: Croatia go top but problems for France
Croatia’s win over Spain puts them top of the pile, hosts France fail to impress with the pressure off, and Germany show inconsistent flashes of brilliance

Alan Smith

23, Jun, 2016 @10:00 AM

Article image
Iceland’s beautiful journey finally comes to an end at Euro 2016 | Barney Ronay
Iceland’s stunning run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, winning many friends, came to an end when they were torn apart by a France team with growing belief this could be their year

Barney Ronay at the Stade de France

03, Jul, 2016 @10:53 PM

Article image
Euro 2016 quarter-finals: who will win?
The quarter-finals will be played on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Which four teams will qualify for the semi-finals in Lyon and Marseille?

Guardian sport

30, Jun, 2016 @8:47 AM

Article image
England 1-2 Iceland: Euro 2016 – as it happened
Minute-by-minute report: Iceland came from behind to subject England to one of the greatest humiliations in their history

Barry Glendenning

27, Jun, 2016 @9:16 PM