Football fever in Iceland ahead of key match against hosts France

Football fever continues to rage in Iceland where fans are gearing up for Sunday’s decisive quarter-final showdown with host nation France in the European Championship.

“You can see blue everywhere. I am wearing a blue Icelandic shirt at work,” said Styrmir Gislason, co-founder of the national team fan club Tolfan that has about 400 members.

“It is pretty tense, a lot of joy but also you can feel the tension. But not in a bad way, in a good way,” he added.

The 37-year-old was Friday heading back to France after securing a ticket for the Stade de France arena, and doubted he would catch any sleep before the flight.

Other fan club members booked on the same flight included drummers, who were prepared to give extra boost to the so-called Viking chant that both fans and players have displayed.

Gislason said it originated from a team in Scotland, and was adapted by a local club in Iceland.

Interest for the national team remains high in the North Atlantic country of 330,000 people. The fan base has widened as the team has delivered upset after upset after securing a historic berth to its first major championship at Euro 2016.

"We know it’s a difficult game and we are playing against the home side," Gislason said of the upcoming match.

While France has "big names on the team sheet," he noted that Iceland could draw on "heart and will."

With Iceland on a roll following the 2-1 triumph over England and qualifying from the group stage, Gislason said there is a buzz about planning trips to Russia and the 2018 World Cup finals.

“Our belief is that now that we have got there, we can do it again and again and again,” he said.

While facing a tactically disciplined Iceland team and enthusiastic fans, some of who invoke Norse gods for support, France might take some comfort in statistics: Iceland coach, Lars Lagerback, a Swedish national who previously coached Sweden and Nigeria, has never won against France in 11 encounters.

Lagerback and co-coach Heimir Hallgrimsson have underlined the need for their players to remain disciplined and to keep their focus.

Thousands of fans are expected to gather in central Reykjasvik to watch the match on Sunday.

Others have scrambled to get flights to France, and routes have been complicated in some instances.

Dagur Arnason, who disliked how much airline tickets surged, doubling in price, is one example. He has opted to fly from Iceland to Barcelona on Friday afternoon. In Barcelona, he and three friends would look at the night life before heading to Paris on Saturday morning.

Their return trip begins Tuesday morning with a 6-hour trip to Friedrichshafen, Germany. There they will fly back to Iceland

"It is really worth it," he told public broadcaster RUV.

Klara Bjartmars of the Iceland Football Association, said she expects about 8,000 Icelanders to be at the Stade de France match.

Meanwhile, the national team's success is likely to generate even more interest among tourists to visit Iceland, said Inga Hlin Palsdottir, head of Promote Iceland.

Last update: Fri, 01/07/2016 - 13:02
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