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Soccer-Iceland emergency coach takes roundabout route home

REYKJAVIK, Oct 14 (Reuters) - For Belgium there was a familiar face on the opposing bench as they beat Iceland 2-1 in the Nations League on Wednesday.

Former Iceland international Arnar Vidarsson lives in Belgium, having played and coached in the country’s top flight and marrying a local, and is now a regular pundit on television, his fluency in Flemish earning him many admirers.

He is also technical director of the Iceland football association and coach of the country’s Under-21 team, dividing his time between Belgium and Iceland in a hectic lifestyle he has admitted he cannot continue indefinitely.

It got a whole lot more hectic on Tuesday, however, when the entire technical staff of Iceland’s national team, including Swedish coach Erik Hamren, were forced into quarantine after one of them tested positive for COVID-19.

It left Iceland scrambling for someone to sit on the bench on Wednesday and who better than the technical director, especially with his intimate knowledge of Belgian football.

Except he was in Luxembourg with the Under-21 side.

“After the game I heard the news that the staff of the first team was in quarantine and that the association wanted me to come to Iceland as soon as possible to help the team tonight,” Vidarsson said.

He drove the 250km from Luxembourg to his home in Lokeren to drop off his car and had a taxi take him across the channel to catch a flight to Reykjavik from England.

“Fortunately, I had a very good taxi driver who took me to Luton airport. I could sleep a bit in the car. There I took a flight to Iceland this morning,” Vidarsson said. “It was an adventure.”

The 42-year-old Vidarsson, who won 52 caps for his country and played close to 400 Belgian league games for Lokeren and Cercle Brugge, then took his place on the bench.

“It was mainly about the fact that there has to be a trainer on the bench with the right licence and someone who could offer mental support,” he said.

“We won an important game against Romania last week that was our priority,” he added in reference to the Euro 2020 playoff success.

“Tonight it is just a nice experience and opportunity to compete against the best in the world.” (Reporting by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Ed Osmond)

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