May 10, 2018 / 2:15 AM / 11 days ago

Bold Iceland aiming to reach last 16

ZURICH (Reuters) - Emboldened by their Euro 2016 campaign and bolstered by their natural optimism, ambitious Iceland say they are aiming to reach at least the last 16 at this year’s World Cup in Russia.

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - 2018 World Cup qualifications - Europe - Turkey vs Iceland - New Eskisehir Stadium, Eskisehir, Turkey - October 6, 2017 Iceland coach Heimir Hallgrimsson REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo

Coach Heimir Hallgrimsson recognised that they had been placed in a tough group alongside Argentina, Croatia and Nigeria, but refused to be deterred.

“They are going to be a tough three games against teams who all have big experience at the World Cup and we have none,” he told Reuters during an interview at the FIFA Musuem. “But at Euro 2016, we played our best games against the big teams.”

Iceland, with a population of 340,000 and a pool of only around 100 professional footballers, are the smallest country to have qualified for a World Cup.

They made their debut at a major tournament at Euro 2016 where they drew with Portugal and Hungary, beat Austria and England and finally lost to hosts France in the quarter-finals of an extraordinary campaign.

“Our goal is to progress from the group, and because our group is so strong, if we qualify we shouldn’t fear any opponent after that,” he said. “We won’t come across many better teams than those three.”

“Icelanders are very optimistic,” he added. “We always think we are going to win the game and we think we are going to win the game after that.”

But he emphasised that the most important thing was to continue progressing, regardless of how Iceland performed in Russia.

“Success is not just about going to the World Cup and how we perform there,” he said. “It’s a continuous journey in the right direction.”

Writing by Brian Homewood in Bern; Editing by Toby Davis

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