Iceland are on the verge of greatness as they re-write the football history of the tiny country of about 332,529 population which is smaller than Lagos in Nigeria but they have a bigger dream than the Super Eagles.
They are the only team in the world currently coached by joint managers Heimir Hallgrímsson and former Super Eagles handler Lars Lagerbäck and surprisingly there has not been any rancor as to who should enforce more authority or accorded more respect.
The unity from the management has transcended to the players and their teeming fans feeds of the positivity around the team and they have laid down a marker on how a national team should gel just like the Wales team.
While, Iceland can boost of two managers plotting the same goal, Africa’s most populous country cannot say the same as the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) haven’t figured out their next move since Sunday Oliseh resigned in February and have consistently complained of lack of funds to prosecute most of its duties.
The Super Eagles are already out of next year’s African Nations Cup in Gabon due to their failure to qualify from a group of three after Chad pulled out for lack of funds and Egypt, showed hunger as they picked the ticket ahead of Nigeria.
Now, fans of the Super Eagles are scared that the lack of urgency from the federation may jeopardize the chances of the team qualifying for the Russia 2018 World Cup which will be a huge blow to the emerging young talents.
Iceland have shown the way with their organization, desire, and dedication as they leave a lot of mouth gasped open wide in splendid surprise over their success at the European Championships.
A competition, that is tough and filled with more quality teams than on the African continent where Nigeria has faltered in recent years. En route qualifying for the Euro 2016 Iceland opened their campaign with a ruthless display against ten-man Turkey in Reykjavik beating them 3-0 and ensured that the Netherlands did not make it to the competition when Gylfi Sigurdsson’s 51st-minute penalty completed the double over the Dutch. It was a remarkable feeling for the nation that does not have a professional football league.
When Striker Eidur Gudjohnsen, then 17, came on for his father Arnór in Iceland’s 3-0 friendly win against Estonia in Tallinn on 24 April 1996, it was the first time that a father and son had featured as players in the same international match.
Nigeria has won three African Cup of Nation tournaments but none will be regarded as bigger if Iceland manages to win the European Cup on their debut. It is however, bizarre to make direct comparison of the two tournaments are they are for two different continents but the lessons of a team like Iceland for the Super Eagles cannot be ignored.
Hardwork has got them this far as they play as a unit and no player feels bigger than another. Iceland is a team on the rise, constructed on the foundations of the talented Under-21 squad that qualified for the 2011 UEFA European Championship in Denmark, they made history by reaching the qualifying play-offs for the 2014 FIFA World Cup but missed out on a place in Brazil after a 2-0 aggregate defeat by Croatia.
Ahead of their quarter final game against France this evening, France manager Didier Deschamps recognizes the threat Iceland poses, he said: “The players know that Iceland aren’t here by chance. If they’re here it’s because they deserve to be and have quality.
“Long throws from 35-40m out are like free kicks for them and we’ve come up with ways to deal with them. Don’t reduce them to long throws though. In open play they’re capable of playing it on the floor. Iceland deserved to beat England, and they did it through the quality of their play.”
It’s a huge respect from the manager of the favourite team to win the Euros and a great testimony to the growth of Iceland football. The beauty of football is witnessing upsets just like Leicester City achieved in last seasons premier league campaign and neutrals will hope Iceland give them that same feeling at the Euros.