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life-as-struggle-how-iceland-became-the-worlds-best-pound-for-pound-soccer-team-body-image-1418826418Underdog lovers are celebrating Iceland after they took a win against England in the last 16 in the 2016 Euro Cup.

Iceland pulled off one of the biggest shocks in European Championship history by beating England 2-1, continuing the astonishing run of the smallest nation in the tournament. A country of only 333,000 people, Iceland is playing its first major tournament.

Iceland is coming in strong and dedicated to the Euro Cup. No one loves this Euro more than Iceland. With over 10,000 Icelanders at each of the team’s games, the Iceland football team feels like they are one large family.

“It is like having your family at the game,” defender Kári Árnason said after the 2-1 group-stage win against Austria. “I probably know at least 50% of the people in the crowd.”

The fans are making just as much of an impression as the football players. Though relatively new, they have already made several chants and traditions for the games.

The team and it’s fans are extremely unified during the games, and are humbly celebrating their amazing accomplishments at the tournament. They have become inspirational role models for how a small team can work together to do great things.

Growing up, midfilder Gylfi Sigurdsson said he never looked up to the Iceland national team.

“We looked at Brazil and Spain but now the youngsters are watching us and I hope they’re looking up to us.”

The youth certainly is watching the Iceland team now.

Over the past decade, Iceland has completely evolved when it comes to sports. New training facilities to keep children from playing in the cold and skilled coaches have made it easy for players to access opportunities.

With Iceland having no professional clubs, there is an extraordinary high number of qualified coaches in the country. Over the past few years, Iceland surpassed Spain and Germany in the amount of coaches per capita.  It means that even youngsters living in the tiniest fishing village in Iceland can benefit from state-of-the-art, all-weather turf and a trained coach.

“The kids in Iceland have a good opportunity to play the sport,” Olafur Helgi Kristjánsson, head coach of Denmark’s FC Nordsjælland said. “But going from nothing to something and then going from something to something bigger? It demands a lot of work.”

Iceland’s players have a reputation for enduring and fighting. They’re known for being patient and having spirit. This reputation and shared Icelandic ambition is expected to continue to trickle down throughout the country. The win against England fiercely united the national team and it’s fans.

Just three years ago, Iceland was ranked below Liechtenstein and Luxembourg. Players felt that playing in the finals of a major tournament was a “distant dream.”

“People kept on telling me that Iceland would never play in a major tournament but I always believed it would happen and it’s great we’re there…  If you have belief, good players and confidence then anything is possible.” Sigurdsson added.

At first, football fans were baffled trying to understand Iceland’s achievement. But Iceland’s performance has not been a miracle so much as a phenomenal show of hard work and dedication.

 

“We’re willing to work hard and go the extra mile,” said Heimir Hallgrimsson, one of Iceland’s two joint head coaches. “And I think that’s the strength of the individual here. We’re used to bad weather. We’re used to walking to school when it’s windy and tough. So I think we’re kind of used to a strong headwind in life, in general. We’re willing to go the extra mile to get the result. I think that’s our advantage.”

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