Iceland announced its intentions on the European stage at Euro 2016, reaching the quarterfinals. Now it eyes an even bigger splash–but must navigate tough group opposition to do so.
Participating in its first FIFA World Cup, Iceland has many fans intrigued to see how it will do in its debut.
It was just two years ago when Iceland stunned the footballing world when it reached the quarterfinals of Euro 2016. After drawing its opening two group games, a 2-1 win over Austria saw it qualify for the knockout stage.
It was then in the round of 16 where it did the unthinkable. Iceland beat a star-studded England team 2-1 to beat all the odds and progress to the final eight. While it was then beaten 5-2 by eventual finalist and host nation France, it had won the hearts of footballing fans all over the world and put Iceland well and truly on the footballing map.
Just one year later, it secured their qualification to the 2018 World Cup, but it faces a brutal group as it hopes to replicate its Euro feat on the grand stage. Here's what you need to know about Iceland entering the World Cup.
How They Qualified
Having just finished a very successful debut major tournament at Euro 2016, Iceland looked to carry their momentum into its World Cup qualifying campaign. It was drawn into Group I with Ukraine, Croatia, Finland, Turkey and Kosovo, and it made quite the impression.
Iceland secured passage to the World Cup after finishing top of the group, losing just two out of its 10 games. It won all five of its home games - which included a dramatic 3-2 win over Finland with two stoppage-time goals.
Iceland automatically qualified for the tournament and in the process became the smallest nation to ever reach a World Cup, while Croatia was forced to qualify through the playoffs after finishing in second. The two are paired together in Russia, too.
Group Stage Games
It doesn't get much tougher for Iceland, which will begin its first World Cup against Lionel Messi's Argentina. While Iceland fans will be excited by the prospect of playing against arguably the greatest player to ever live on the grandest stage of them all, they know they'll have to be at their very best if they are to get anything from that game.
One positive for the fans to take into account is that Iceland was drawn alongside Croatia in Group D, the nation it already bettered in qualifying. With both sides winning a game each against each other during the qualifying stage, the tie will be evenly poised heading into the tournament this summer.
Group play is rounded off by Nigeria, which has a number of promising young talents like Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Ola Aina at its disposal. Once again, it will be a hard-fought game for Iceland, and it will likely come down to fine margins on the day to determine who gets the win. All in all, Iceland fans will fancy their chances of qualifying from the group, but it clearly won't be easy.
Possible Route to the Final
With Argentina also in Group D, it looks as though Iceland's best hope will be to qualify for the knockout stage as runner-up in the group. Should this be the case, Iceland could meet Group C favorite France in the round of 16 in a highly anticipated David vs. Goliath rematch.
Should Iceland repeat the heroics of Euro 2016 and reach the quarterfinals, the prospect of facing likely Spain, Portugal or Uruguay awaits, before the likes of Brazil, Germany and Belgium could await in the later rounds.
It looks as though Iceland has been dealt a tough draw with the prospect of facing a star-studded team at every step should it qualify from the group.
It would be quite the feat should Iceland be able to upset all odds and progress deep into the tournament, although the fans would likely be delighted with a place in the round of 16.
Goalkeepers: Hannes Thor Halldorsson (Randers), Runar Alex Runarsson (Nordsjaelland), Frederik Schram (Roskilde)
Defenders: Kari Arnason (Aberdeen), Ari Freyr Skulason (Lokeren), Birkir Mar Saevarsson (Valur), Sverrir Ingi Ingason (Rostov), Hordur Magnusson (Bristol City), Holmar Orn Eyjolfsson (Levski Sofia), Ragnar Sigurdsson (Rostov)
Midfielders: Johann Berg Gudmundsson (Burnley), Birkir Bjarnason (Aston Villa), Arnor Ingvi Traustason (Malmo), Emil Hallfredsson (Udinese), Gylfi Sigurdsson (Everton), Olafur Ingi Skulason (Karabukspor), Rurik Gislason (Sandhausen), Samuel Fridjonsson (Valerenga), Aron Gunnarsson (Cardiff City)
Forwards: Alfred Finnbogason (Augsburg), Bjorn Bergmann Sigurdarson (Rostov), Jon Dadi Bodvarsson (Reading), Albert Gudmundsson (PSV)
(4-2-3-1): Halldorsson; Saevarsson, Arnason, Ragnar Sigurdsson, Magnusson; Hallfredsson, Gunnarsson; Bjarnason, Gudmundsson, Sigurdsson; Finnbogason.
While many believe Iceland will struggle due to it being its first World Cup, inexperience in the competition may not be a deciding factor.
Nigeria, has a number of young and inexperienced players in their squad who - like the Icelandic players - have also never experienced a FIFA World Cup before. It will be a new experience for both teams, meaning the result will more likely be determined by the ability of the players rather than nerves.
As for Croatia, Iceland has proven it can beat Zlatko Dalic's men after a 1-0 victory in qualifying, and the fact it finished above Croatia in Group I to automatically qualify for the competition will provide confidence. Croatia, though, clearly has the experience battle won when it comes to this stage.
With the likes of Real Madrid duo Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic in the middle of the park supplying Mario Mandzukic - a proven goal scorer in both Serie A and the Champions League - up front, Iceland's fairytale tournament may not take shape after all, with both Argentina and Croatia favored to get out of a group that is tough to call.