STOCKHOLM, May 22 (Reuters) - Factbox on the Iceland national team ahead of the 2018 World Cup:
FIFA ranking: 22 (till June 7)
This is the first time Iceland have qualified for the World Cup finals.
Heimir Hallgrimsson cut his teeth in international management as assistant to Swede Lars Lagerback, who steered Iceland to the Euro 2016 finals, where they were knocked out at the quarter-final stage by host nation France.
Since taking over, Hallgrimsson has changed very little, picking many of the same players and adopting the same tactics as under Lagerback, and this commitment to continuity has been rewarded with a first World Cup finals appearance.
Gylfi Sigurdsson: A knee injury has cast a shadow over the preparations of Iceland’s stand-out player and if the midfielder does not recover in time, they may well struggle without him. The 28-year-old boasts a powerful blend of skill, intelligence and athleticism that has made him a driving force in the Premier League, where he now plays for Everton after spells at Tottenham Hotspur and Swansea.
Birkir Bjarnason: With his long blonde hair and beard, midfielder Bjarnason looks every inch the Viking, and his tireless running and tough tackling often set the tone for the rest of his team. A nomadic career has seen the 29-year-old represent clubs in Norway, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland and England, and he often pops up to score crucial goals for his country.
Jon Dadi Bodvarsson: If the Reading attacker gets the nod to replace Kolbeinn Sigthorsson, who has been struggling with a knee injury, he will need to find his scoring touch if he is to propel Iceland into the knockout stages. Sometimes deployed as a winger, Bodvarsson has just two goals in 36 games for Iceland, and he will likely be tasked with providing an outlet up front for Iceland’s high-octane, counter-attacking game.
After a successful winter tour to Qatar and Indonesia featuring many of their reserve players, Iceland suffered two defeats in spring friendlies against Mexico and Peru. They will round off their preparations by facing Norway and Ghana at home before heading to Russia.
How they qualified:
Having suffered the agony of a playoff defeat to Croatia to miss out on the 2014 World Cup, Iceland went one better this time and won their group outright to qualify directly. They amassed seven victories, including home and away wins over Turkey, one draw and two defeats.
Though their style of play is not very dependent on personnel, Iceland’s chances do very much depend on the fitness of Sigurdsson — if he is fit they are capable of giving any team in Russia a run for their money. Their lack of strength in depth was exposed as the 2016 Euros in France wore on, but with the entire nation behind them, lightning could strike twice for a team famous for their “thunderclap” celebration. They face Argentina, Croatia and Nigeria in a tough Group D in Russia. (Reporting by Philip O’Connor; Editing by John O’Brien)