BY BOLAJI OKUNOLA.
Iceland which caused the biggest upset at the Euro 2016 in France is promising a repeat performance as the country faces the trio of Argentina, Nigeria and Croatia in the Group D of the Russia 2018 World Cup next month.
According to Reuters report at the FIFA Museum in Zurich, the coach, Heimir Hallgrimsson recognised that the team had been placed in a tough group. But the players are emboldened by their Euro 2016 campaign and bolstered by their natural optimism.
The World Cup debutants have set an ambitious target of reaching the round of 16 at the Summer World Cup. Realisation of the ambition means that two of the trio of Argentina, Croatia and Nigeria will crash out at the close of Group D games on June 26.
Iceland had never been to the World Cup before. Coach Hallgrimsson admitted that the team will be under pressure to repeat the mark attained at Euro 2016 when the debutants drew upset big names like drawing with Portugal, and Hungary and beating Austria and England before losing to hosts, France.
“They are going to be a tough three games against teams who all have big experience at the World Cup and we have none,” he told Reuters. “But at Euro 2016, we played our best games against the big teams.”
Iceland, with a population of 340,000 and a pool of only around 100 professional footballers, are the smallest country to have qualified for a World Cup. They made their debut at a major tournament at Euro 2016.
“Our goal is to progress from the group, and because our group is so strong, if we qualify we shouldn’t fear any opponent after that,” he said. “We won’t come across many better teams than those three.”
“Icelanders are very optimistic,” he added. “We always think we are going to win the game and we think we are going to win the game after that.”
But Coach Hallgrimsson emphasised that the most important thing was to continue progressing, regardless of how Iceland performed in Russia. The team will face the Super Eagles on June 22 at Volgograd Arena.
“Success is not just about going to the World Cup and how we perform there,” he said. “It’s a continuous journey in the right direction.”