ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia, June 26 (Reuters) - World Cup debutants Iceland proved they can compete against the top teams and the Nordic nation’s players will depart Russia with their heads held high even if they failed to win a single game, coach Heimir Hallgrimsson said on Tuesday.
The smallest nation by population ever to qualify for the tournament, Iceland’s giant-killing performances in Euro 2016 sent an early warning that they would not be in Russia just to make up the numbers.
They began their campaign brightly with a 1-1 draw against Lionel Messi’s Argentina but that would be their only point as they finished bottom of Group D.
“We have not played many games like this against a strong team like Croatia and created as many chances as we did,” Hallgrimsson told reporters after his team’s 2-1 loss to the group winners.
“I’m proud off the performance and character we showed. We left everything behind on the pitch, there’s no percentage left in the batteries in the dying minutes.
“The players showed what they’re all about, we had chance to progress till the dying minutes. I couldn’t be more proud of the players but we are disappointed to not go through. It’s a beautiful game but sometimes it’s really tough.”
Unlike in their first two matches against Argentina and Nigeria where they were more solid at the back, it was Iceland who were on the front foot and had the best of the chances against the Croats.
They had 17 attempts on goal to Croatia’s 13 on Tuesday, and not being able to come away from Russia with a victory probably remained the only disappointment for Hallgrimsson.
“We showed we deserve to be here and we can compete against the best. We can look at each other in the eye and say we can carry our heads high. We have showed we belong,” he said.
“And say we did everything we could and you shouldn’t be disappointed but we had so many opportunities to win it that you can’t not be disappointed.”
Hallgrimsson cut his teeth in international management as assistant to Swede Lars Lagerback, who steered Iceland to the Euro 2016 finals, where they beat England in the last 16 but fell to host nation France at the quarter-final stage.
The coach said he will take some time off and was not ready to answer questions on his future.
“I’m going to take a week or two to think about it just now... relax and sit down with the FA (Icelandic Football Association) in 10 days,” Hallgrimsson said.
“I need to think about family first, it’s a good time for me and the FA to look back and to the future what could be better done.
“I’m trying to avoid this question, we’ll take 10 days then we can decide what will be in future.” (Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Christian Radnedge)