Wednesday 19 December 2018

Icemen seek more glory days

Iceland have learned lessons to avoid Euro 2016 hangover
Iceland's Aron Gunnarsson celebrates victory
Iceland's Aron Gunnarsson celebrates victory

As the clever college students all know, the best way to prevent a hangover - apart from not going drinking in the first place - is to get your prevention cure in place beforehand.

Welsh football is still suffering from an unshakeable hangover from their summer in France but Iceland appear to be dealing with life rather well since their own Euro 2016 experience ended, and are nicely placed in second spot in their group for the World Cup qualifiers, with the potential to go level on points with group leaders Croatia if they can beat the Croatians in Reykjavik in June.

And it seems that nations like Wales, and Ireland, can learn a lot from the football people of Iceland in terms of how they cope with success.

Unlike Wales, the Icelanders have carried on winning post-Euros. And while the domestic game was left to stagnate in Ireland amid the national frezny of Euro 88 and Italia 90, in Iceland they are keen for their football, not just the senior international side, to grow.

So how come Iceland have managed to keep their heads after the Euros?


"It's a little bit of a hangover, of course, it was the first time for the players that they didn't get their summer holidays so everything is new." manager Heimir Hallgrímsson said at a press conference in Dublin yesterday, in front of a media audience of half a dozen scribes, a world away from the feeding frenzy he enjoyed/endured last summer in France.

"I think we were prepared enough, it's a learning curve for us, a new thing and hopefully we can build on it for the World Cup in Russia," "We started all that before the Euros and during the Euros, we talked about success," he said.

"One of our favourite sentences is that success is not a destination but a continuous journey to the right direction. Because we started to talk about it before the Euros, I think that's one of the reasons, at least, that the players were motivated when they started again.

"Players like Ronaldo and those guys who do it regularly, play in the Champions League finals and go to every finals with their national team, they are used to it but it's pretty tough when you do it for the first time."

He admits that injuries, due to the increased intensity, have come their way. "That is in part down to the finals [Euros] and because the players didn't get their normal holidays. But it can also be case of being mentally tired and it's something we can learn from," he says.

Iceland's head coach Heimir Hallgrimsson
Iceland's head coach Heimir Hallgrimsson

Captain Aron Gunnarsson admits it was not easy to miss out on a summer break: he had just four weeks between Iceland's last game at Euro 2016 and the first match of the new season with Cardiff City.

"It has been tough, coming from a routine where you have had your summer holidays, you get your rest. But I would do it all again to have the summer we had last year, so I can't complain," said the Welsh-based defender.


But Iceland are keen to make sure that Euro 2016 is not a one-off. Success in France has helped the profile of their players and move to better clubs but their plain-speaking manager shies away from the usual PR guff, where all glories and feted and any failings not discussed, to admit that.

"Icelandic football and players have gained more respect around the world. Have we used it to our benefit? Yes and no," says Hallgrímsson with refreshing honesty. "Icelandic players have definitely gone to better clubs and are getting more attention than before so that's good. Domestically the league is starting in a month so we have to wait and see if the league has improved.

"We could have done more to improve Icelandic football after the Euros but it was our first time and hopefully we can use that to our benefit in the future," he added, stressing that picking players from the domestic league, with a view to getting them a move away, is part of his job.

But the job tonight is to combat Ireland. "It will be a tough match, it won't be a passing, friendly game, there will be battles everywhere, and I hope the players go carefully," says the coach, aware of Seamus Coleman's plight.

"Normally Ireland play games to get results, even friendlies, given the circumstances I guess you will be a little bit more careful at this stage of the season," he added.

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