Unless you have a rooting interest for France today, it is safe to assume that most in the world will be cheering on Iceland in their Euro 2016 quarterfinal.
In a tournament that has been expanded this year to 24 teams for the first time, providing many countries their first taste of a major competition, Iceland is primed to face the hosts in a knockout game that is by far the biggest match in the country’s history.
Their development has been amazing to watch over the last few decades. They have turned the corner from one of Europe’s minnows to a national team that feels like it can play with anyone in the world. These two quotes from Howler in January show the attitude that has carried them this far.
National team co-manager Heimir Hallgrímsson:
“It doesn’t matter who we play or what the score line is, we try to never change our priorities. We do not think of ourselves as a small country in these moments. We know we don’t have the individual players of Holland or Turkey. We win on unity and hard work and organization, and we have to be better than everyone else in these areas.”
Dadi Rafnsson, the director of youth coaching at Breidablik:
“If you meet somebody from Iceland, they’re almost delusional about their ability,” says Dadi Rafnsson. When [the national team] lines up against Holland, we’re not thinking, we’ll try not to lose so bad. We’re thinking, we’re going to beat them.”
Davis Harper’s piece about the team is a great read for anyone who wants to learn more about the underdogs. Indoor facilities allowed Iceland’s promising young players more training time than ever before. The KSI, Iceland’s football federation, had resources to build these in various parts of the country and invested in them in the early 2000’s.
In addition to facilities, Iceland invested in coaching education at a rate never seen before. For every 500 Icelanders, there is a UEFA licensed coach available. Large clubs even have these UEFA A and B license holders coaching youth as young as six years old. In the US, the six year olds are not taught by coaches with that level of training.
Iceland has it right, the best coaches need to be with the youngest players. If young players are taught well in the beginning, developing technical skills, then they have a better chance to become stronger players later.
What is impressive is that Iceland knows what their players are capable of and they construct a game plan to match it. They focus on playing as a cohesive unit, they work extremely hard, they remain organized. They know these areas are what will give them opportunities to win.
Any leader in the sport, at a club or a national federation, should look long and hard at what Iceland has achieved and how they did it. The lessons are there for how to develop a generation of players and a culture of success. Iceland has managed to do this without the resources that many clubs and federations have. Learn from Iceland, adapt it to the local culture and resources, and watch the game grow.
The Battle of the Bronx, Round 2 is today as NYCFC hosts the New York Red Bulls at Yankee Stadium. Kickoff is at 12pm on ESPN2. (Once a Metro)
Kei Kamara’s two goals were not enough as Montreal came back to defeat the Revolution 3-2. (The Bent Musket)
Is Piatti feeling it? Sure. He's feeling it. pic.twitter.com/rPyK5AJASm— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) July 2, 2016
Toronto took the lead first, but Jordan Morris scored to earn the Sounders a point on the road. (Waking the Red)
Early contender for picture of the week:
Depleted #TFC earn valuable point in hard-fought draw vs. Sounders https://t.co/TaffhMCX1f @JohnMolinaro pic.twitter.com/HiqzYGcF76— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) July 3, 2016
And Morris equalizes immediately. pic.twitter.com/EDD9KPrDEa— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) July 3, 2016
Last minute free kick by Cristian Maidana, former Union star, carries Houston to a 1-0 over Philadelphia. (Dynamo Theory)
FT: Cristian Maidana hits a 94th-minute free kick to down the @PhilaUnion! #HOUvPHI https://t.co/FSYLq6aKBs— Major League Soccer (@MLS) July 3, 2016
Alex Tambakis kept a clean sheet for Charleston as they defeat Richmond 2-0 in USL action. (Dirty South Soccer)
Puerto Rico FC makes their NASL debut with a 1-1 draw against Spring champions Indy Eleven:
Germany gets past Italy in one of the wilder penalty shootouts in recent memory. (SB Nation)
They await the winner of Iceland vs. France today, kickoff is at 3pm on ESPN2 (Eurosport)
Manchester United in talks to sign Mexican national team standout Hirving Lozano. (Metro)
The Silverbacks Women beat Knoxville 2-0 to finish the WPSL regular season undefeated. Playoff match-up will be announced soon.
Game over! Tied 1:1. Get your playoffs tickets now! See you in ATLANTA @RailHawksFC Thursdays 3:30— Atlanta Silverbacks (@ATLSilverbacks) July 3, 2016
That's full time the Revs tied @MyrtleBeachFC 1-1 #garevs pic.twitter.com/ca1t9UG6xf— GeorgiaRevolutionFC (@Ga_Revolution) July 3, 2016
Peachtree City ties Mississippi Brilla 1-1, Casey Shultis had the goal for PTC.
South Georgia Tormenta’s five game winning streak comes to an end, Southern West Virginia King’s Warriors defeat them 2-1. (Statesboro Herald)
Best Headline Award: Al Horford and the Atlanta Hawks will divorce, and it's the kids (fans) that get hurt (Peachtree Hoops)