How Iceland (population: 330,000) qualified for the World Cup

IT HAS become a familiar ritual. A drum beats twice. A wall of blue-shirted fans grunts and lets rip a thundering clap. The pace quickens, like a Viking horde charging into battle. After every victory—and there have been many in recent years—Iceland’s football players and fans unite in performing the clap, which has become one of the sport’s most loved traditions. Last month it boomed out once again. After a 2-0 win against Kosovo on October 9th, Iceland, with a population of just 330,000 and a manager who doubles as a part-time dentist, became the smallest ever country to reach the 32-team finals of the men’s World Cup. They will be one of 14 European sides to compete in the 21st edition, hosted by Russia next year. “It means the world,” says Gudni Bergsson, a former national captain who is now president of the Icelandic Football Association. “For years we have watched the major tournaments on television. People would choose their sides and which countries to support. Now we are actually going there.”

To the outside world, strakarnir okkar (“our boys”) must seem like the most improbable qualifiers in World Cup history. The sparsely-inhabited volcanic territory is home to a quarter as many people as Trinidad and Tobago, which previously held the record for the puniest finalist. Of the 54 European countries to have entered this year’s…Continue reading

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