On June 14, Iceland’s underdog soccer team will face off against Portugal in the first of three matches of the Euro 2016 soccer tournament. The team finished second in a tough qualifying group and beat World Cup runner-up the Netherlands twice in the process. Iceland, part of Group F, is also set to face Hungary and Austria on June 18 and June 22, respectively.
With a population of about 332,000, Iceland is the smallest nation to ever qualify for the Euros. The team is now so popular in the island country that 10 percent of the country – about 30,000 Icelanders – are expected to travel to France for the tournament.
Icelanders recall team’s domination at the Euro 1992 tournament in Denmark and Euro 2004 tournament in Greece; both times, the team was a huge underdog. With 12 years separating those victories, it’s not lost on fans that it’s now been 12 years since the team’s last Euro victory. It’s possible that 12 is the team’s magic number!
Iceland’s joint-coach Heimir Hallgrimsson attributes the team’s success to the bulk of the squad having played together at various national junior levels for several years.
“We have a chance against everyone,” Hallgrimsson said. “We have shown that we can beat any team if we are well prepared and if we play well.”
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