Iceland has continued its recent run of success in international competitions by finishing top of its group and earning an automatic spot at next year’s World Cup in Russia.
The island nation of only 330,000 has now become the smallest country ever to qualify for the biggest event in football.
The Viking War Chant was sung in good voice in Reykjavik Monday as the team recorded a 2-0 win against Kosovo, securing the top spot in Group I with 22 points, two more than the next finisher, Croatia. Ukraine’s loss to Croatia saw it finish third and miss out on a playoff spot.
Iceland’s recent run has included an impressive appearance in the Euro 2016, in which the team made it as far as the quarterfinals, where it lost to hosts France. The team made international headlines when it saw off England in the Round of 16.
That impressive run led to some problems for the team, according to manager Heimir Hallgrimsson, as it prepared for the next big competition.
"The hardest thing was to get going again after our massive party in France,” he said after the victory against Kosovo.
Kosovo’s manager, Albert Bunjaki, said he intended to draw inspiration from Iceland’s success.
"It's a great example for small nations like our own who aim to have a good team, well organised, in the future.”
Other smaller nations have had mixed results this week, with Scotland missing out on the World Cup on Sunday after a draw against fellow minnow Slovenia saw them finish third in Group F. Meanwhile, the Republic of Ireland managed to earn a playoff spot at the expense of Wales.
Wales had been touted to do well in a group that also includes group-winners Serbia, as well as Austria, Georgia, and Moldova, but the team has struggled throughout the qualifying process. Wales made an impression at least as great as Iceland in last year's Euro, making it all the way to the semi-finals of the Euro 2016 and losing only to tournament-winners Portugal.
The Dragons were hindered by the loss of Gareth Bale, whose recently discovered injury ruled him out for the final qualifiers.
With Wales stumbling, Iceland’s continued success is all the more striking. It is currently on a 13-match unbeaten run at home and won seven of its ten games in the group.
Goals from Everton striker Gylfi Sigurdsson and Burnley’s Johann Gudmundsson were enough to continue that run and finish the group with yet another win.
Despite the momentous achievement, Hallgrimsson, who is also a part-time dentist, was less festive and more philosophical about Iceland’s achievement.
"The success is not an end in itself but a long journey towards a final destination,” he said.
That destination is now set: Russia, 2018.
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