Iceland reached a major tournament for the first time in their history, with a 0-0 draw against Kazakhstan securing their place in the Euro 2016 finals, while fellow Group A side the Netherlands were left desperately clinging on to the hope of a play-off place.
Iceland had previously taken themselves to the brink of qualification with a 1-0 away win against the Dutch, in which Swansea midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson scored a penalty. The Netherlands travelled to Turkey knowing they needed a win to keep their hopes of qualifying automatically alive, but a team containing the likes of Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijder went down 3-0, with former Arsenal youth team player Oghuzan Ozyakup and Barcelona’s Arda Turan among the goalscorers.
[su_pullquote]The rising stars of Iceland are working hard[/su_pullquote]Following a poor start to his side’s qualifying campaign, Dutch boss Gus Hiddink resigned, with Danny Blind, a former Netherlands international player and father of Manchester United’s Daley Blind, taking over. The new manager has failed to arrest the alarming form of the 1988 Euro Champions, who may now miss out on a place in the finals for the first time since 1984, despite an expanded format which supposedly should have made it very difficult for the bigger footballing nations to fail to qualify. Captain van Persie and Sneijder are established names, but both are clearly in the twilight of their careers and it is unreasonable to expect them to show their best form again. The Dutch appear to be in a transitional period now, but do have promising youngsters coming through, such as Memphis Depay.
As for Iceland can now celebrate a historic moment in their footballing history. Perhaps their most famous player and record goal scorer Eidur Gudjohnsen, formerly of Chelsea and Barcelona, still makes the squad at the age of 37, but it is the younger talent in the Icelandic ranks that has propelled the tiny nation into the footballing mainstream.
The new star is Sigurdsson, whose time in the Premier League has consisted of a disappointing spell at Tottenham sandwiched between two excellent periods with Swansea City.
Fans in England will be well aware of his talent as a goal scoring midfielder – he is currently his country’s top scorer in qualifying with five goals – who possesses an excellent range of passing and is a specialist at set piece taking. Beyond that, their success has been built on the basis of a strong defence, which has conceded just three goals from eight matches so far. Only Wales and Romania can boast better defensive records.
While big name players flounder for the Netherlands, the rising stars of Iceland are working hard to replace them on the biggest stage in European football.