(photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
REYKJAVIC - Iceland's soccer supporters were in raptures on Monday as they celebrated in the capital and across the country after the national team qualified for their first World Cup.
Iceland, the smallest country ever to reach the finals, booked their ticket to next year's finals in Russia by beating Kosovo 2-0 to top their European qualifying group.
"Are you kidding! We are going to the World Cup!" the local TV commentator screamed as the final whistle blew and fireworks erupted over the Laugardalsvollur national stadium.
"Iceland to the World Cup," was the cry at the American Bar, the biggest sports bar in downtown Reykjavík. Outside the rain came down but inside nothing could dampen the spirits.
"The smallest country to get to the World Cup by far, this is surreal," supporter Gunnar Atli Thorodssen said on a busy Monday night. "I have to book my ticket to Russia immediately." Iceland has a population of about 350,000 while the previous smallest country to have reached a World Cup was Trinidad & Tobago, in 2006, which had 1.3 million people.
VIKING CLAP On TV, team captain Aron Gunnarsson could be seen joining in with the stadium crowd's now-famous traditional viking clap.
The crowd in the bar clapped along with the primal chant, which is sure to be an endearing feature in Russia next year, as it was at the European Championship in France last year where Iceland beat Austria and England to reach the last eight.
"The World Cup, Pele, Maradona and Aron Einar Gunnarsson," the national team manager Heimir Hallgrímsson told TV reporters. Behind him, the players joined the crowd in singing "Feroalok", the team's anthem, which means: "I am home".
Gunnarsson has no doubt that the World Cup is where Iceland, ranked 22nd in last month's world rankings, belong.
"Nonsense? I don't know if this is nonsense," he said. "After we lost against Croatia (in the 2014 World Cup playoffs) we aimed at qualifying next time. In my opinion we were in the most difficult group, but we decided that we were just going to finish this. We had no interest in some playoff bother." Inside the bar, there was a faint hope the team might come downtown to join the party as the rambunctious crowd, wearing their red, white and blue jerseys, bounced around. Even the tourists appeared to be get caught up in the moment.
"Not since 1996, when Tony Adams played for Arsenal, have I followed football, but last summer that all changed," said Arni thor Arnason, with a beer in his hand. "Now we're going to the World Cup, unreal. I still don't believe it." Reykjavík's bars usually close at 1am on weekdays but Monday's celebrations seemed set to continue until dawn. There will be some sore heads on Tuesday but come the start of the World Cup the whole country will likely be at a standstill.