May 25, 2016 / 3:26 AM / 3 years ago

Tiny Iceland equipped to cause a major shock

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Having qualified for the finals of a major tournament for the first time, Group F hopefuls Iceland will not be content to make up the numbers at the European Championship and sides who underestimate them could be in for a nasty surprise.

Iceland's team celebrate their victory over the Netherlands with their fans after their Euro 2016 qualifying soccer match in Amsterdam, the Netherlands September 3, 2015. REUTERS/Michael Kooren

The tiny island nation of around 330,000 inhabitants dominated their Euro 2016 qualifying group for much of the campaign, turning their home ground Laugardalsvollur in Reykjavik into a fortress.

They hammered Turkey 3-0 in their opening fixture there, following up with victories over the Czech Republic and Netherlands.

Another win over the Dutch followed in Amsterdam, a result that caused the footballing world to take them seriously as a possible group winner.

It was not to be but their second place behind the Czechs has been rewarded in France with group games against Portugal, Hungary and Austria.

By now, Iceland fear no-one.

While many sides would be loath to meet Portugal and Austria, Iceland will be happy to concede possession for long periods with a view to hitting decisively on the break.

Iceland’s recent success is no flash in the pan. For many years the football association has invested in coaching and facilities to enable young players to practise skills all year round.

Iceland are compact, disciplined and aggressive in defence, launching lightning-fast counter-attacks when they win the ball. Despite the Cinderella nature of their qualification, they are physically tough and not adverse to a cynical foul.

At the helm is wily Swedish coach Lars Lagerback, who will step down at the end of the finals. His players are spread throughout Scandinavia and the lower reaches of some of Europe’s top leagues. Despite the small talent pool, there is plenty of competition for places.

One certain starter if fit is Swansea’s attacking midfielder Gylfi Sigursson, who will be the side’s fulcrum in France.

There is also room for record goalscorer Eidur Gudjohnsen in the squad. Helping to track a way out of a tough group could provide a fairytale ending to the 37-year-old’s international career.

Reporting by Philip O'Connor; Editing by Neil Robinson

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