France will face Icelandic convalescents

The great northern wall is crumbling. Iceland had been the revelation of the 2016 Euro football, reaching the quarterfinals, just beaten by France. She also distinguished herself in the stride, in 2018, becoming the smallest nation ever qualified for a World Cup.

If the Russian summer had been as painful as a Siberian winter (elimination in the first round of the World Cup), the result was hardly more brilliant, to the point that the Strákarnir okkar ("Our guys", in Icelandic) appear today in a fragile situation, convalescent, as they prepare to face, Friday, October 11, the French in the second leg of the qualifying phase for Euro 2020.

Read also Euro 2020 qualifiers: set back at Barça, Griezmann relaunch against Iceland

After the World Cup, the Icelanders went on a series of eight games without winning, until their success in Andorra (0-2) on the first day of the qualifying phase for Euro 2020 in March. Since then, the selection of Erik Hamrén alternates between the good and the bad in this phase of the playoffs. It has four successes in six days before the match against France, which promises to be crucial to hope to finish in one of the first two qualifying places in Group H.

Iceland is currently third with 12 points, three behind France and Turkey. In case of failure against the selection of Didier Deschamps, a sinuous course to participate in the European competition, through the dams, could take shape.

Erik Hamrén, at a press conference on 10 October.
Erik Hamrén, at a press conference on 10 October. JONATHAN NACKSTRAND / AFP

Following World Cup 2018, Heimir Hallgrímsson, the man at the helm of the Icelandic team (he was assistant between 2011 and 2016 before becoming coach), decided to leave his post. To replace him, the Icelandic federation has named Erik Hamrén, former coach of Sweden between 2009 and 2016.

Read also Euro 2016: Coach Hallgrimsson, the soul of Iceland, England scorer

Its beginnings have been complicated and recent results are somewhat skeptical. The national team posted poor results in the League of Nations, the new European competition created in 2018: four games, so many defeats.

"Everyone expects France to win. Realistically, by the way, she should win. Erik Hamrén, Icelandic coach

In recent times, Iceland, 41e in the FIFA rankings after having approached the top 20, has certainly experienced a slight start, including a victory against Turkey at home (2-1) in the framework of the qualifiers for Euro 2020. But these three valuable points have been immediately ruined by a setback in Albania (4-2), September 10, before welcoming France. What revive questions about the team and his coach.

And it is not the speech held by the latter that is likely to open more positive perspectives. " Everyone expects France to win. Realistically, by the way, she should winer ", said Erik Hamrén ahead of Friday night's game, adding, however: " But we know that unexpected things happen in football. Iceland has never beaten France, but it will be Friday, maybe. Yes, Friday, maybe … "

The Icelandic fans will nevertheless be present Friday night: the 9,800 seats at Laugardalsvöllur, the Reykjavik stadium, will be occupied. A stage where " the atmosphere is fantastic », says Everton midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson, who gives extra soul to the team ".

Read also Medieval sagas in Björk, why Iceland fascinates
  • A game that no longer surprises

Iceland in training before facing the French team.
Iceland in training before facing the French team. JONATHAN NACKSTRAND / AFP

Athletic, rigorous, effective on kick set and formidable on the keys: the qualities of the Icelandic selection are known. But the team, whose game had been surprising in recent years, especially at Euro 2016, has become more predictable.

"It's a team that has two faces. She is much more successful at home than outdoors. We will have an opponent with a respondent. Didier Deschamps, coach of the Blues

" When we met them at the Euro (5-2 win in the quarterfinals), we spent three sessions working their combinations on the keys ", Confessed Didier Deschamps. Since then, the Blues have faced the Icelanders twice, once in a friendly in October 2018, for a very hooked match (2-2), and once, in March, in the first phase qualifying for the Euro 2020, match concluded with a win, 4-0.

Didier Deschamps expects a match complement different from that of spring. " It's a team that has two faces. She is much more successful at home than outdoors. At home, it's more complicated. We will have an opponent with a respondent. The Icelanders have lost just three of the 22 games played in the past six years at Laugardalsvöllur.

Friday night, they will be deprived of their captain Aron Gunnarsson, one of their major players. Al-Arabi midfielder in Qatar, initially named in the group, forfeited because of an injury to ankle ligaments.

  • A succession that is waiting

The island of about 338 000 inhabitants and which has 25 000 licensees in football, struggling to regenerate the national starting eleven, the one who reached the quarter-finals at Euro 2016.

The team always relies on its old, experienced but aging players. This is particularly true in the defensive sector, which today lacks liveliness, like the central defense made up of Kári Arnason (36) and Ragnar Sigurðsson (33).

In the face of Moldova, on 7 September in the qualifying match for Euro 2020, nine of the eleven players lined up in 2016. Except midfielders Albert Gudmundsson (22), or Arnor Sigurdsson (20), very few young people knock on the door of the selection.

However, it is not for lack of efforts on the part of the federation, with in particular the construction of indoor grounds to train the winter. Facilities whose purpose is to encourage the development of football.

Nicolas Master

Article reserved for our subscribers Read also How the 2008 crisis changed Iceland


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