Europe

Five facts about Icelandic football

They are the tiny nation who humiliated England 2-1 at Euro 2016 on Monday. On their way to the last eight of the European tournament, they've also beaten Austria and, in qualifying, the Netherlands, Turkey and the Czech Republic.

Here are five facts about the underdogs who are doing a lot better in France than you might have thought.

1. One of the managers is a dentist

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Heimir Hallgrimsson (third from right) has a nice set of pearly whites

Heimir Hallgrimsson works as a dentist as well as co-managing the team. He works on a five square-mile (13 sq km) island called Heimaey, where there are fewer than 5,000 people and millions of puffins.

Image copyright Chris Gomersall / RSPB
Image caption Puffins: better with fish than footballs

He'll be taking on the team full-time after Euro 2016.

His co-manager Lars Lagerback is not a dentist, or a doctor, or a postman. He's a full-time football manager from Sweden. He has also managed Nigeria and Sweden - and credits Roy Hodgson, the England manager who stood down after being beaten by Iceland, with shaping his style.

2. 10% of the Icelandic population went to France to support their team at Euro 2016

Image copyright EPA
Image caption About 30,000 Iceland fans have travelled to France for Euro 2016, meaning a tenth of the population are cheering their footballers on in person

Iceland has as many people as a small English city.

332,529 people, to be precise.

That's about as many as live in the English cities of Leicester, or Coventry. England as a whole has a population of more than 53 million to pick and choose its footballers from.

And this June, 10% of the Icelandic population were in France to support their team at Euro 2016.

If 10% of England's population had gone, France would have had an influx of 5.3 million people.

Or if you were to take the US as an example, 10% of its population would be 32 million people. Imagine that many people leaving the country to cheer on their football team.

Iceland are punching above their weight. They don't have anywhere near as many people to choose from as England do. They have never even qualified for anything this big before. Here is their record in qualifying for recent major international tournaments:

Euro 2000 Did not qualify
2002 World Cup Did not qualify
Euro 2004 Did not qualify
2006 World Cup Did not qualify
Euro 2008 Did not qualify
2010 World Cup Did not qualify
Euro 2012 Did not qualify
2014 World Cup Reached the play-offs
Euro 2016 Qualified
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Almost all of the other hundreds of thousands of people left in Iceland watched the England game from afar

3. They practise footy in domes

Image copyright ICELAND FA
Image caption 3G pitches inside heated indoor domes ensure football can be played all year round in Iceland

It's cold in Iceland. The average temperature in the warmest month is only 10-13C (50F-55F).

But more pertinently than that, it's dark in Iceland. There are nearly 20 hours of night-time in December. It's not ideal for practising football.

So the country has ploughed money in to indoor facilities for the sport over the past 15 years.

Iceland's football association (KSI) has overseen investment in 30 full-size all-weather pitches, seven of which are indoors, and almost 150 smaller artificial arenas.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Iceland's hope is that more of the "indoor kids" grow up to be like Kolbeinn Sigthorsson and get the ball in the back of the net

Now, people can train all year round - and they get labelled the "indoor kids".

But that's not all.

The KSI's media officer, Omar Smarason, says quality coaching through European football body Uefa has been vital for shaping the country's fairytale.

"You can only do so much with a facility. You have to have capable people," he tells the BBC, his voice hoarse post-match.

"From the age of four, every child has a Uefa-accredited coach."

That started 15 years ago, when Uefa came to the country for the first time.

"A few players on this side are now the product of that. The current team is obviously a good generation."

4. The goalkeeper was a film director

Hannes Halldorsson was a film director before he turned professional as a goalkeeper.

He directed the video for Iceland's entry to the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest.

Image caption That's not weather for outdoor football

Greta Salome & Jonsi performed Never Forget in Baku, Azerbaijan in May 2012, but the song came only 20th in the final.

Iceland has been represented at Eurovision 29 times but it has never won and, therefore, never hosted the competition.

5. *That* commentator is out of a day job

Clips of Gudmundur Benediktsson shouting and screaming as his team netted a last-minute winner against Austria last week have bounded around the internet. His joy is infectious - you can listen here:

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionAn Icelandic commentator says ‘he didn’t know what he was saying’ during his commentary

But in just a few short days, he left his job at KR Reykjavik. The side has been doing pretty badly - it's lost most of its recent games.

Gummi Ben, as he's known, was back at the microphone on Monday night. Maybe his team's upswing in fortunes will keep his spirits high.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Icelands captain, Aron Gunnarsson, saw plenty to celebrate after finishing England's title hopes in the early stages of Euro 2016

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