A delighted Heimir Hallgrimsson warned England that Iceland are not afraid of facing them in the last 16 of Euro 2016 on Monday after his side’s rollercoaster 2-1 victory over Austria at Stade de France.
Hallgrimsson said Iceland may have to move their national holiday from 17 June to the date of this win given the importance to his nation’s sporting history.
With the last kick of a riveting final Group F match Agnor Ingvi Traustason, a second-half replacement, scored a memorable goal, and as Szymon Marciniak, the Polish referee, blew instantly for time, a jubilant Iceland bench ran on to the pitch, and the fans celebrated wildly. The win confirmed second place, edging out Portugal who qualified in third, and sets up what will be only the third meeting with England, in Nice.
While the previous match was a friendly in 2004 at the Etihad Stadium, ending in a 6-1 thrashing of Iceland in which Wayne Rooney scored twice, Hallgrimsson is not concerned about facing Roy Hodgson’s team.
“I’m not afraid of the England,” said the 49-year-old, who co-manages the team with Lars Lagerback. “And now they know how fun it is to win, how good it is to get to the last 16 the first time trying. It wasn’t negative to get second place in the group as we get two extra days to prepare. We always knew the opponent will be difficult in the last 16. From the day, all that matters is we are in the last 16.”
Asked what Iceland will have to do to knock out England Hallgrimsson said: “Iceland has to have the perfect game, we have to have our best game and we know that and we say that when we play the best team, we just have to play our best and that’s what we have to do. Even when we play our best we know we can still lose.
“Iceland knows everything about English football, we are English football crazy. I don’t think we need analyse them much but I don’t think they know too much about Iceland players. I could count all the players [as being dangerous] it is a creative team a little bit different the English tea than before as before, RH deserves credit for that – there are a lot of threats in England team.”
After Iceland drew with Portugal in the opening group game Cristiano Ronaldo accused them of having a small mentality. “What he has to say is irrelevant to us,” Halgrimsson said. “We don’t mind what other people think of us, we try to do our best and I think the players on the pitch show they give their best.”
Hallgrimsson believes his squad possess an unbreakable spirit. “Everybody who was watching the game saw how much it meant to us, we were willing to sacrifice everything for the win. I’d like to give credit to Austria. We were lucky on occasion but we showed a fantastic mentality, there were a lot of tired legs, everyone knows we played almost the same players all the games.
“We are really proud of our squad and players, we lost a little bit of the initiative in the middle of first half and gave the ball away too easily to the Austrians. But we won the game and it was a rollercoaster. It’s time to recover, enjoy and recover, we are really satisfied to get to this stage.”
Kari Arnason, the defender voted man of the match, said: “I can’t really describe it. To do this with your best friends is fantastic. This is the feeling of all the lads – we’re a tightly knitted group, it’s extra fun to do this beside my best friends. And the supporters: 10,000 people from Iceland were here. It’s unbelievable, its like having your family here, I know probably 50% of the crowd or recognise them. This is extra sweet for us.”
Of facing England, he said: “I’ve always supported England in big international tournaments when we have not been playing. It’s a dream come true, we believe in our ability.”
Iceland started brightly and led at the break following Jon Dadi Bodvarsson’s 18th-minute opener that came via a corner. “This is something we’ve trained before,” Arnason said. “I’m not going to go into detail, I want to keep secrets from the training ground.”
Austria’s Aleksandar Dragovic missed a 36th-minute penalty, hitting his kick against Hannes Halldorsson’s right-hand post, before the half-time substitute Alessandro Schöpf equalised.
Then came Traustason’s late strike. “We’re going to tell them [players] just to go to sleep and recover,” Hallgrimsson said. “We have some values in the squad that I think everyone who sees our games can see. The supporters: if they see these values they will support the team. Every Icelander is happy. Of course we know we’re playing teams with individuals who play in better teams so that’s the only thing you can hope is give your best.”
The Austria coach, Marcel Koller, said: “In the first half we didn’t play well like in the two games before. We’ve committed too many errors, mistakes with passes, that’s why we couldn’t create the pressure we wanted.
“That improved in the second half, that’s like when we played in the qualifiers, but that was not enough.”
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