Euro 2016

Getting to know the minnows

Iceland midfielder Aron Gunnarsson and team-mates celebrating after the come-from-behind 2-1 Euro victory that eliminated England in Nice on Monday.
Iceland midfielder Aron Gunnarsson and team-mates celebrating after the come-from-behind 2-1 Euro victory that eliminated England in Nice on Monday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

They are the two remaining minnows of the tournament, and both Wales and Iceland are turning heads with their spirited Euro 2016 runs.

Few would have predicted the two nations would advance this far, but they have done so with a heady mix of fearlessness and resoluteness. So how did these two nations build up their football amid their small populations?

Wales

THE FOOTBALL

Welsh professional club teams traditionally played in the same leagues as their English counterparts. In 1992 the Welsh Premier League was formed and it now has 12 teams.

The Wales national team have struggled to find success at international level. Before Euro 2016, their only other appearance in a major tournament was the 1958 World Cup in Sweden.

Current Fifa ranking: 26

Top scorer: Ian Rush, 28 goals

Most appearances: Neville Southall, 92 caps.

KEY MEN AT EURO 2016

Gareth Bale: The main reason Wales are doing so well. A deeply patriotic man who has always loved playing for Wales, Bale has lit up the Euros with three goals and a hand in couple of others.

Aaron Ramsey: Another potential match-winner on his day, especially with his brilliantly timed runs into the box.

Ashley Williams: From earning £80 (S$144) a week playing in Wales' Southern Premier League in 2003, Williams got his big break when he signed for Swansea in 2008 and he has been influential in helping to establish the club in the Premier League.

THE COUNTRY

Area: 20,779 sq km

Gross domestic product: £52 billion (S$94 billion)

Popular sports: Rugby union, football, boxing, cricket, snooker.

POPULATION

3.06m


Iceland

THE FOOTBALL

As recently as 2010, the Iceland men's national team were outside the top 100 in the Fifa world rankings. Since then, the team have rised nearly 80 spots in the rankings, thanks to nearly two decades of investing in indoor pitches and training of coaches.

By January this year, nearly one in every 500 Icelanders is a Uefa-qualified coach.

Current Fifa ranking: 34

Top scorer: Eidur Gudjohnsen, 26 goals

Most appearances: Runar Kristinsson, 98 caps.

KEY MEN AT EURO 2016

Gylfi Sigurdsson: The second Icelander, after Eidur Gudjohnsen, to score 10 goals or more in a season in the English Premier League. He is given a free role from midfield to push forward for goals.

Aron Gunnarsson: A key defensive midfielder and captain, he was also a very promising handball player who had to choose between sports.

Hannes Thor Halldorsson: A film director who played part-time goalkeeper for Icelandic clubs until 2014, when he gave it up to sign his first professional deal in Norway.

THE GUARDIAN

THE COUNTRY

Area: 102,775 sq km

Gross domestic product: US$14.5 billion (S$19.5 billion)

Popular sports: Handball, football, basketball, swimming, chess.

POPULATION

0.3m

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 01, 2016, with the headline 'Getting to know the minnows'. Print Edition | Subscribe