(Reuters) - Iceland’s 0-0 draw with Kazakhstan sparked jubilant scenes as they qualified for the finals of a major tournament for the first time on Sunday with a place at Euro 2016.
The result ensured they will finish in the top two in Group A as they stand seven points ahead of third-placed Turkey with two rounds of matches to play.
Knowing a point would be enough to ensure qualification for the finals in France, the home crowd urged their side on with chants of “Afram Island!” on a rainy night in Reykjavik.
They were rewarded with a typically committed, battling performance filled with chances but no goals.
Gylfi Sigurdsson, Kolbeinn Sigthorsson and Jon Dadi Bodvarsson all went close for Iceland but the Kazakhs stood firm to take their second point in the campaign.
At the final whistle the Iceland squad danced in a ring on the pitch before going to celebrate with fans.
“It’s unbelievable, I’m shocked. We’ve worked ever so hard to get to this point,” captain Aron Gunnarsson told a TV reporter after the final whistle.
“Being the first Icelandic team to qualify for a finals — when I started playing football, I didn’t even dream of that,” he said before rejoining his team mates to celebrate.
Gunnarsson was part of the team that came up just short in qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, losing a two-legged playoff against Croatia.
But he and his team came back stronger.
Drawn in a group containing the Netherlands, Turkey and the Czech Republic, as well as Latvia, Iceland were facing opponents who had cities with greater populations than their entire country.
Despite being tipped for second or possibly third place at best, the islanders have so far recorded a stunning six wins, one draw and one loss in the qualifiers, comprehensively beating and often outplaying their more heralded rivals.
Their technical skills and excellent physical conditioning have made them hard to beat, but it is the tactical nous of wily Swedish coach Lars Lagerback that has helped get the most out of a limited pool of players.
Lagerback has steered them to top spot in the group, level on 19 points with the Czech Republic, while Turkey have 12 points after beating Netherlands 3-0 earlier on Sunday.
Reporting by Philip O'Connor in Stockholm; Editing by Ken Ferris ad Justin Palmer