With just 320,000 people, Iceland is one fourth the size of Trinidad and Tobago, the smallest country that has ever participated in a World Cup. And yet the island nation is just two games away from qualifying for next summer’s finals. On Friday, Iceland meets Croatia in Reykjavik for the first game of a two-game playoff with the winner heading to Brazil.
According to the BBC, more than 35,000 Icelanders -- just over 10 percent of the population -- applied for tickets to the sold out match at Laugardalsvollur national stadium, which has a capacity of just 9,800.
Iceland’s rise has been meteoric. Ranked 131st in the world by FIFA last year, Lars Lagerback’s men have climbed to 46th this year, finishing second in UEFA World Cup qualifying Group E. Not bad for a team that began its campaign as the sixth seed in a six-team group.
While Croatia, ranked 18th in the world, is certainly the favorite to go through, the BBC says Iceland is catching its opponent at a particularly good time, as coach Igor Stimac resigned shortly after Croatia lost the final game of group phase qualifying against last-place Scotland. New coach Niko Kovac is untested at senior international level.
As Iceland’s British former coach Tony Knapp says, "It would mean everything to that country to get to Brazil. The idea of a World Cup group with Brazil, England, maybe Ghana or Ivory Coast and Iceland is incredible. I hope with all my heart they do it.”