If you are an avid soccer fan, you are probably aware of the tournament going on right now in Europe called Euro 2016. For those of you that aren’t fans (yet), Euro 2016 is the common name for the European Championship that takes places every 4 years for the senior men’s national teams that are part of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA).
There were 24 teams when the tournament started in mid-June, and all but 4 have now been eliminated through a group stage and a knock-out stage. The semi-final matches take place Wednesday for Portugal vs Wales, and Thursday for Germany vs France.
But in my opinion, the most inspiring story in the tournament so far is all about a team that didn’t make it to the semi-finals.
Iceland, population 332,529*, became the smallest nation to ever qualify for a major tournament when it got in this year. How small is this “smallest” nation? Well, there are 50 cities in the United States with populations greater than the entire country of Iceland!
It is pretty amazing that they can field a competitive national team! How did they do it? This graphic, though a little tongue in cheek, sums it up nicely:
A tiny country making the tournament is exciting, but that was just the beginning of how they inspired a worldwide following during the tournament (myself included).
Here are a few things that make their run a bit of fairy tale:
- Iceland doesn’t even have a professional team. These guys play for love of the game.
- The team’s manager? He’s a part-time dentist!
- 10% of Iceland’s residents travelled to France to support their team. Yes, that’s right. 10% of the entire country!
- Thousands more gathered to watch the matches in the country’s capital Reykjavik.
- Iceland became the first country to survive the group stage in their first tournament appearance.
- Iceland shocked everyone when they knocked out England during the Round of 16, to advance to the quarterfinals.
The team was amazing, and played with passion and heart, but just as impressive is the loyal fan base.
This was the celebration after the upset over England … the now famous chant that is a tribute to Viking ancestors:
Iceland did lose the quarterfinal match to France, but their loyal fans, who stuck around long after all of the French were gone, showed us what team spirit is truly all about:
And if you thought the post-game “Viking clap” was impressive… the homecoming was just unreal. A “few” fans showed up to share their pride in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik.
The team will now focus on qualifying for their first World Cup in Russia in 2018, and a lot of new fans will be supporting them from all over the world.
Will you be one of them? I know I will!
See you next week!