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Iceland’s Soccer Upset: The Tip of the Iceburg

Iceland’s Soccer Upset: The Tip of the Iceburg

Iceland’s 2-1 win over England at the Euro 2016 soccer tournament is being called one of the biggest upsets in the history of the sport. Easily the favored team in the matchup, England was shocked to watch their team lose to the tiny country of 330,000, and now that they’ve got the world’s attention, we’d thought it might be fun to dig up some facts about the robust Nordic underdogs.

A Few Facts About Iceland’s Soccer Team

Iceland really is the ultimate underdog, claiming the title of the smallest nation to ever qualify for a major soccer tournament. The humble soccer team’s win provided a much needed boost for Iceland, which has had a bit of a rough financial and political time as of late.

Iceland’s coach is a part-time dentist, which is incredible considering England’s coach is (or, was) paid $4.6 million dollars per annum – the highest coaching salary at the tournament. Another great thing to know about this team is that their performance this Monday was viewed live and in person by the largest amount of Icelanders to have ever gathered at a place outside Iceland.


Iceland’s Aron Gunnarsson celebrates after the game

If that doesn’t make your heart grow three sizes for the little team that could as they move on to the next round, we don’t hold out much hope for converting you. Nonetheless, here are some fun facts about Iceland, which is about the size of Ohio and has a smaller population than the city of New Orleans.

Fact 1: The Icelandic language is very close to Old Norse

They’re so close, in fact that a modern Icelander would have no trouble reading a 1000 year old Norse text. To give you some idea of just how well preserved a language has to be for that to happen, here’s Beowulf, an Old English text from around 1000 years ago:


First page of Beowulf

It’s pretty amazing that Icelandic has stayed the same for so long, and has only added on new words as things were discovered and invented.

Fact 2: Iceland is one of the last places on Earth to be settled by humans, but is also one of the world’s oldest democracies

In 930, the Althing (or national parliament) was established near what later became the country’s capital of Reykjavík. Less than a hundred years before that in the later half of the 9th century, Norse settlers migrated across the North Atlantic to find unsettled land they could call their own without kicking up any dust.


Norsemen landing in Iceland, by Oscar Wergeland (1909)

It’s also thought that when the Norse settlers arrived, they encountered Gaelic monks who may have arrived earlier. Nonetheless, that’s a pretty quick establishment of democracy.

Fact 3: Iceland consumes more Coca-cola and watches more movies per capita than any other country in the world


‘Coke in Iceland’ vintage ad from 1943

Just when you thought Icelanders were exotic Viking folk, you hear that they love to Netflix and chill just like the rest of us – except the “chill” should be taken literally.


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