Should tournament debutants Iceland reach the knockout stages of Euro 2016 by securing the result they need against Austria on Wednesday, much credit will go to a dentist and a film director.(RESULTS | STANDINGS)
Iceland, with a population of about 330,000, are the smallest country ever to qualify for the Euros, yet have been undaunted by their casting as minnows, holding Portugal and Hungary to 1-1 draws in Group F through resilient displays.
That means a win, or perhaps another draw, against Austria, will put Iceland into the knock-out stages, a fairytale outcome which could make for an excellent movie script.
Goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson would be the ideal judge of that, having halted his film career to become a full-time professional in 2014, first in Norway and then the Netherlands.
Halldorsson, who directed the video for Iceland’s 2012 Eurovision song contest entry, has made 14 saves — the most by any keeper at the tournament, but the 32-year-old’s game is about much more than just shot stopping.
Against Portugal, he tried 28 passes — of which 27 went long — which was the second most from any Iceland player and against Hungary, his 35 attempted passes were more than any teammate.
These are statistics that reflect the pressure Iceland resisted in those two matches as they averaged 33.5 percent possession, the lowest at the Euros.
“If someone had given us the option of having this position before the tournament we would have gladly taken it,” joint-coach Heimir Hallgrimsson told a news conference.
“We’ve done quite well even though we have been pushed back. We’ve created some good chances so maybe that is the way against Austria, to stay back and let them come.”
Hallgrimsson, who will take sole charge of the team when co-coach Lars Lagerback retires this summer, maintains a dental surgery in a small town in Iceland.
His bilingual press conference at the team’s Lake Annecy training base was markedly more relaxed than the tense affairs staged by other nations.
He urged his players to use the ball better against an Austrian team who were considered potential dark horses but who have registered only one point and no goals so far.
“They seem to be a little bit lacking in the two games they’ve played. Let’s hope it will continue,” Hallgrimsson said of Austria.
“They have really good organisation but they also have really good individuals and that’s a lethal combination.”
Gylfi Sigurdsson, who scored six of Iceland’s 17 goals in qualifying as well as a penalty against Hungary, is likely to again partner Aron Gunnarsson in central midfield.
Hallgrimsson indicated his combative captain Gunnarsson had shrugged off a groin injury.
For Austria, star turns David Alaba and Marko Arnautovic have yet to make any impression in attack but are likely to be retained, while coach Marcel Koller must decide whether to risk Marc Janko.
Janko, scorer of seven goals in qualifying, was surprisingly omitted against Portugal, although Koller subsequently revealed the striker was struggling for fitness.
In the other group game, Hungary, on four points, will face Portugal, on two.