Iceland’s journey in Euro 2016 was the football underdog story of the summer. In their first ever major international tournament, the Icelandic national team managed to surpass expectations by reaching the quarterfinal stage, eliminating giants England on the way.
While they were expected to be just adding to the numbers f the extended format of the tournament, the players gave a good account of themselves in Iceland’s greatest football triumph of all time.
Eidur Gudjohnsen — recently unveiled as marquee player of FC Pune City for the 2016 season of the Indian Super League — expressed how it was a monumental achievement for not just the players but the country as a whole.
“It united everyone. It was the biggest event of the summer for everyone in Iceland. It was all everyone talked about and they will always talk about how they lived during the Euros,” Gudjohnsen said over the phone from Pune City’s training camp in Spain.
“That was because of how we played, how our fans behaved, how we came together as a nation. It left a good image and it spread around the world,” he continued.
Having played international football for 20 years, Gudjohsen’s greatest international achievement was playing in Euro 2016.
“For me it was a dream that I was able to fulfill. I played for 20 years with the national team and sometimes we came very close to qualifying but sometimes not,” he said of his experience playing a major international tournament.
The 37-year-old former Chelsea and Barcelona winger famously made his national team debut by replacing his father Arnor Gudjohnsen in a friendly match in Estonia in 1996 and went on to become the leading goal scorer for Iceland, with 26 goals in 88 international games. He described playing in France as a “great way to end my international career”.
But the Euro 2016 story went further than just Gudjohnsen and the rest of the Iceland players.
Reportedly, nearly 27,000 Iceland supporters bought tickets to watch their matches in France during Euro 2016 while over 95 per cent of the population in Iceland tuned in on television to watch the national team beat England in the round of 16.
The team’s exploits have done wonders for the sport in the country says Gudjohnsen.
“Football now is really taking off. Football has always been very popular but I think particularly after this summer it has become the number one sport in Iceland,” he said when asked about the popularity of the sport.