We get it everybody, Iceland is a small country. We get that Iceland has 330,000 people and their population is the same as [insert medium sized U.S. city here]. It certainly makes Iceland’s trek through the Euros a better story but at the same time, it takes away the fact that this is a team that deserves to be in the Quarterfinals and it shouldn’t be this shocking.
Simply discounting Iceland and being shocked that they have been able to make the Euro Quarterfinals is flawed logic. By that logic, China, India, the United States and Indonesia should be favorites to win the World Cup every time simply because they are the four countries with the highest population. This isn’t to say that Iceland’s population shouldn’t be mentioned. It should be mentioned that a country with that small population has been able to win against established soccer nations. But focus on how Iceland has been able to use their population size to their advantage. Iceland invested a lot of time and money into development and coaching and it’s paid off.
It’s paid off because Iceland was able to use its small size to its advantage. With only 330,000 people and a small percentage of that playing soccer, Iceland was able to realistically study every soccer player in Iceland and put out the best 23 players they can. There’s debate on how the United States can get better with development. But with the size of the United States and the millions of people playing soccer, the United States couldn’t realistically do what Iceland can do. Yes, the system can improve but talented players will still fall through the cracks in the United States because you cannot fully scout a few million people.
Also, Iceland has been a simmering power waiting to launch into the mainstream for years. From a low FIFA ranking of 110th in 2010, Iceland climbed to 49th in 2013 and then 33rd in 2014 where they have hovered since. During that time, Iceland almost qualified for the 2014 World Cup. Despite a relatively easy group, Iceland finished 2nd in their World Cup qualifying group with a 5-2-3 record. Iceland then lost to Croatia in the playoff to miss out on the World Cup.
For the Euros, Iceland once again finished 2nd in their qualifying group but that meant Iceland would qualify. With a 6-2-2 record, Iceland shut out teams like Turkey and the Netherlands as well as beat Czech Republic to qualify. Now, Iceland has taken on the Euros and have gone unbeaten in the group stage, drawing Portugal. Now, they beat England and will face the hosts France in the Quarterfinal, looking to keep up the Icelandic dream.
So when it comes to Iceland, don’t try to summarize them in a simple statement about their population or lack thereof. Sure, it’s shocking to hear that a country of 330,000 people can beat England but there’s way more to Iceland than their small size. Not looking beyond their size is unfair to Iceland and all that they have accomplished so far. When you look past the population size and look into what Iceland has done, it becomes less and less surprising they are in the Euro Quarterfinals and makes Iceland a respected contender to potentially win this tournament as well as potentially qualify for the 2018 World Cup. This may be a cute story but Iceland is just getting started.