Whilst the aftershocks of Thursday’s political earthquake are still being felt, the England football team’s own “Leave or Remain” campaign takes on a more decisive tone.
We were, of course, an Arnor Ingvi Traustason goal away from the prospect of facing the Beauty and the Beast of these Euros, Ronaldo and Pepe, but here we are, up against a country whose volcanoes have had more chance of upsetting the rest of Europe in the past than their football team ever did. But things have changed.
Iceland is a country in the ascendency in many ways. After the economic crisis of 2008 decimated the whole financial landscape of its population, their people were on the ropes. The recovery has been a hard lesson for them but out of despair came the green shoots of hope in the form of tourism and sport.
Back in 2013, I was just about to call time on my career and as I mentioned a in my column two weeks ago, an ex-teammate of mine called to see if I’d like to go to Iceland for a few months and play some games for his side, Keflavik.
Despite its size, Iceland has always produced a good number of excellent players but the sum of its parts has never amounted to the total it should have.
They have had technically gifted players in the past but mostly it’s players such as Aron Gunnarsson that encapsulate theirs style of player. Physically strong and adaptable, it’s this adaptability and hardiness, both physically and mentally, that has helped their players succeed in every league in Europe.
I arrived in Iceland in early May and the temperature was barely above freezing with the threat of a snow shower never far away. And it was windy. It was always windy.
Because of the harshness of the weather, the grass was, like the people, made of hardier stuff. It was thick and spongey, unlike the near bowling greens we’re used in England.
It’s because of these conditions they become better players when they move abroad. It’s almost as if you’re being tested; if you can play football in Iceland, then you can play anywhere.
The difference between this generation of footballers to others is that they have been able to train all year round since they were small kids, rather than just wait for the window of summer to arrive.
The Golden Generation have had the advantage of excellent indoor facilities in a place where there really isn’t a great deal to do, so they play sport. Basketball, handball and football.
Now the investment in these facilities and their coaching system is now paying off and now Iceland the majority of their players are now being taken abroad at a young age. Just like goalscorer Traustason and Emil Hallfredsson, two players I have played alongside at Keflavik and Barnsley.
Given the choice, we’d have all taken Iceland over Portugal but that doesn’t mean it will be an easier game, it just poses different problems to Roy Hodgson and his side.
Without converting it into a barrow-load of goals, England’s dominance in possession has meant they haven’t been in much danger of losing a game and you’d have to say that you wouldn’t expect to lose this one either.
Iceland’s individual qualities haven’t always transferred to a team environment when they have been together but Lars Lagerback has given them the tactical nouse and structure that they had been missing and that is the problem they pose to England.
They believe in their system and are full of confidence. Far from being apprehensive at the prospect of facing England, they will take great joy in facing them up and saying “Come on then. See if you can get through us.” They are a team who excel in nullifying the opposition.
And if we do break through that solid defence, Iceland have Hannes Halldorrson, a keeper who has developed his game late in his career, growing into his role and he’s been a huge part of their success.
I watched them narrowly lose 4-2 to Slovenia in World Cup qualifiers in Reykjavik. It was a game which was very much in the balance until late on and a win for Iceland would have taken them very close to Brazil. At the time, Hannes was the only player in the starting XI based in Iceland and was seen as a weak link but that has changed in a short space of time, which is indicative of the confidence in the side.
We shouldn’t ignore their attacking threat though. Yes, they are strong at set pieces but they are quick to recognise when they have the chance to break on the counter once they win the ball back, with plenty of selfless runners willing to join in the attack.
What England need in this game is players who can do something a little different and even though Raheem Sterling hasn’t impressed up to now, I just get the feeling he is what’s needed against Iceland.
Slow probing build up won’t break Iceland. England’s full-backs have been their best attacking option but Iceland are designed to defend crosses.
This isn’t a game for Lallana or Vardy. We’ve seen Vardy can’t flourish without the space to run into. This game is made for the invention and pace of the likes of Sturridge and Sterling.
Win the ball, get it to their feet early and allow them to express themselves individually. That will be the key.