Iceland is a nation that for generations has gazed upon the horizon and seen dozens of armies gearing up for the battle that is World Cup qualifying, each one with infantry ranks wildly outnumbering their own. Yet in the face of this enormous challenge the mighty Icelanders sharpened their swords with relish, eager to plunge themselves into the heart of the action. The Icelandic people have always been enlivened rather than terrified by odds in the favor of their bigger, “better” competitors, always driven by the knowledge that only through great adversity is great triumph possible. And triumph they have, as today’s 2-0 victory over Kosovo has officially won Iceland a spot in the 2018 World Cup.
It was a team effort, as is usually the case with this tight-knit group, though Gylfi Sigurdsson was probably the star performer if you had to pick one. He scored the game’s opening goal by dancing through Kosovo’s defense and into the box before firing home, and he also assisted on the Jóhann Gudmundsson strike that doubled their lead. Regardless of which individual you pick out, the key here is that Iceland as a whole will be in Russia next summer, where they will look to continue what they’ve started. The best fans in soccer must be proud.
Iceland’s Euro 2016 run—in which they shocked the world by making it to the quarterfinals primarily off the back of a stunning victory over England—seemed like it would have been the height of this golden generation’s achievements, but that has not proven so. The country of just 334,252 people as of the 2016 census—put another way, an entire nation with a smaller population than that of Wichita, Kansas—is now the least populous to have ever qualified for the World Cup.
Simply by making the biggest sporting event on the planet, these Icelandic players have earned themselves a place in history and probably in Valhalla, too—though there is no reason to suspect them to stop there. There are powerful forces in both this mortal realm, and beyond, backing this team, and it would be foolhardy to doubt their power and resolve. The Viking spirit is never sated: