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Iceland (Iceland!) Qualified For Euro 2016

Iceland’s win over Holland last Thursday at Amsterdam Arena was the most surprising result of the day in Euro 2016 qualifying.

Their draw with Kazakhstan Sunday was less surprising, but more important in terms of what it directly led to.

Iceland’s national team has qualified for a European Championship for the first time ever.

The island nation nearly qualified for the 2014 World Cup road but lost in the playoffs against Croatia and failed to get its ticket to Brazil.

The amazing thing is Iceland is doing this without a star footballer, and with two coaches who share duties.

Lars Lagerback achieved excellent results as manager of Sweden’s national team and later in Nigeria before coming to Iceland, where he is assisted by Heimir Hallgrímsson.

Though without a superstar, Iceland does feature quality players. Hannes Halldórsson, Iceland’s goalie, plays in the Dutch League. Kari Arnason and Birkir Sævarsson (who both play in Sweden), Ragnar Sigurdsson (Russia) and Ari Skúlason (Denmark) are on the defensive line.

Iceland’s best scorer is midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson, who plays for Swansea City in the Premier League and has scored five goals in seven games. His midfield-mate Aron Gunnarsson plays for Cardiff.

Birkir Bjarnason (Switzerland) and Jón Dadi Böðvarsson (Norway) complete Iceland’s midfield. Gunnarsson, Bjarnason, and Böðvarsson have scored five goals between them so far.

The forwards are Johann Gudmundsson (Charlton Athletic) and Kolbeinn Sigthórsson (Nantes).

In Lagerback’s opinion, Iceland’s MVP is Gylfi Sigurdsson.

"Gylfi can definitely go very far. He is an extreme team player and can work very, very hard for the entire 90 minutes so for Iceland he is worth his weight in gold," Lagerback told The Guardian.

Perhaps it is coincidence, but since Lagerback and Halldórsson have together Iceland have moved up more than 80 places in the FIFA rankings.

Iceland started its road to soccer’s greatest tournaments 15 years ago when they built about 40 stadiums with artificial turf, or with roofs to prevent the weather from being an obstacle. And so, despite the wind or cold winter, football can be practiced in this country all year long. The prize is here. Iceland has picked up its first ticket to a UEFA Euro Tournament.

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