Euphoria in Iceland after seismic England win
Iceland basked Tuesday in the glory of its historic and unexpected 2-1 victory over England at Euro 2016, with locals now convinced that all their dreams can come true.
The team will next face hosts France in the quarter-finals on Sunday at the Stade de France.
But whatever happens in Paris, “when the boys return home, whenever that will be, they’ll be national heroes,” said Gudni Johannesson, who won Saturday’s presidential election in Iceland.
(READ: Hodgson resigns as England boss after Iceland humiliation)
On Monday evening, around 10,000 people had gathered in front of a giant screen set up in the Arnarholl park in central Reykjavik.
When the final whistle blew, screams, tears and hugs erupted like one of the North Atlantic island’s volcanoes. Rarely has there been such a display of ecstacy in this normally tranquil country.
Iceland’s greatest sporting feat until now had been a silver medal in the men’s handball at the 2008 Olympics.
Icelandic commentator Gudmundur Benediktsson, whose screaming disbelief went viral after Iceland defeated Austria last week, again went ballistic.
“This is over! Never wake me up! Never wake me up from this crazy dream! Iceland… is going to Stade de France… on Sunday! France-Iceland!
England just go home… Get out of Europe, go anywhere you like! England 1, Iceland 2, that’s the final result!” he screamed, his hoarse voice cracking.
WE’RE LOSING MILLIONS
After the match, television news anchor Maria Sigrun Hilmarsdottir presented the news sporting the team’s blue jersey. Before the game, Foreign Minister Lilja Alfredsdottir had worn the team jersey to a very sober meeting of the European Free Trade Association in Bern.
Iceland and their fans are now teeming with confidence, like a band of true Vikings ready to conquer the world.
The team’s remarkable journey to the European Championship began in September last year, when they defeated the Netherlands 1-0 in Amsterdam to qualify for their first major finals.
“Where is this going to end?” headlined daily Frettabladid. A giant photo of the team covered the newspaper’s front and back pages.
Konrad, a fan interviewed in daily Morgunbladid, said he hoped the fairytale would continue until the very end. He has a ticket for the final on July 10.
“I hope they will not laugh as much at me now as they did when I bought it,” he said.
Even the team’s players didn’t believe they would go this far.
“Some of the lads had already booked their holidays and more, but unfortunately for those boys they will just have to keep on playing,” co-coach Heimir Hallgrimsson told broadcaster RUV.
Meanwhile, at home, almost everyone is swept up in the frenzy over the squad’s success.
Even those who aren’t usually interested in football know the players’ names by heart. Posters of the Euro and footballs hang everywhere, in shops, restaurants, bars and petrol stations, all vying to attract customers with special Euro offers.
Icelandair has added two extra flights to fly fans to Paris, one on Friday and one on Saturday.
“I know one guy who’s not interested. He feels a bit lonely,” tourist guide Ivar Hauksson told AFP.
“It’s unreal. Two years ago we sucked. Now we’re in the top eight in Europe. The motivation of the team is unbelievable. They fear no one,” he said.
But not everyone in Iceland is thrilled about the team’s success.
Icelanders’ confidence in their team cost the national betting monopoly a pretty penny as it was forced to pay out 3.7 times the amount it earned on the match.
“We’re losing millions on this result. But it feels incredibly good anyway,” lottery official Stefan Konradsson tweeted.