STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - They may be the smallest nation to ever qualify for a World Cup finals but their Viking mentality means Iceland will fear no-one when they take on Argentina, Nigeria and Croatia in Russia, goalkeeper Runar Alex Runarsson has told Reuters.
Runarsson was a fan in the stands taking part in the famous “thunderclap” as Iceland cut a swathe through Euro 2016 in France before losing to the hosts in the quarter-finals. This summer, he will be sat in the dugout as a reserve goalkeeper.
“For sure, our mentality is the biggest thing that we have, we’re not afraid of anybody,” the 23-year-old said.
“It depends a lot on the first game against Argentina how we’ll perform there, but if we get a point there or win that game then everything is possible for us.”
Runarsson, who plays for FC Nordsjaelland in Denmark, is back-up to Hannes Haldorsson and one of several new faces in the squad that will represent the tiny island nation in Russia.
“It’s going to be very tough but we showed in France that we can beat everyone, we can beat all the teams, we can compete with them all. That’s what we’re gonna do,” he said.
Boasting just 340,000 inhabitants, Iceland’s long-term investment in facilities and coaching has been rewarded with a first visit to the World Cup finals, the smallest nation ever to make it that far.
Runarsson, however, is one of the exceptions in a strong crop of emerging talent who tend to grow up in Iceland.
His father Runar Kristinsson is the country’s most-capped senior men’s international and his nomadic career took him and his family to Sweden, Norway and Belgium before returning to Reykjavik in 2007.
“He’s sad that he never got the chance to play at a major finals, but the national team wasn’t at the same level that it is now when he was playing,” Runarsson explained of his father.
“We went to the European Championships in France together and watched all the games and it was amazing, but this time he will be in the stands cheering for me, and probably being a little bit annoyed that it’s me, not him, in the squad.”
Runarsson also fully expects Iceland to continue playing the tough, physical brand of football that got them to the finals.
“Our playing style is very direct. We’re not going to take a lot of chances when we don’t have to. Rather, we make the other teams make the mistakes and we grab the opportunities that are given to us,” he said.
He credits his technical and tactical skills to spending seven years in Belgium from the age of five while his father played for Lokeren, but there is little doubt where he and his team mates get their winning mentality from.
“Every time I go on the pitch, I’m going to be a Viking and I’m going to give everything,” Runarsson said.
Reporting by Philip O'Connor; Editing by John O'Brien