The FIFA world cup is the pinnacle of sporting prowess, the biggest sporting event in the world with billions of eyes watching who will triumph in this soccer competition of nations from across the globe (even though, if you're not German or Brazilian it's probably largely pointless).
Last night, the final qualifying games were played, and it saw some seriously big contenders left without plane tickets to Russia next summer as they suffered at the hands of others, and this includes CONCACAF Cup champions the USA, winners of the previous two Copa América tournaments Chile and the reigning Africa Cup of Nations victors Cameroon, so what do you do now if your team has failed to qualify?
There's going to be no avoiding it, TV companies have already spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the rights to broadcast the games whilst sponsorship deals, tie-ins, and advertising rights means that everything you see on TV and hear on the radio will be world cup orientated by the time summer rolls around again, so you are pretty much going to have to follow it. Well, fear not because we hear at OMG Lane have checked the stats, read the tea leaves and scoured the stars to see who is the best team in the tournament to support and we present you with...Iceland!
Bear with us here, we know this may sound a little left of field as a choice of team to get behind but we have some very carefully considered and scientifically approved reasoning behind this decision which we will break down for you into easy to understand points.
It's An Underdog Story
Iceland has shocked the soccer playing world as of late with their hardy performances and fiercely passionate fans, and this all came to a head during the 2016 European Championships when they managed to reach the quarterfinals of the tournament after seeing off nations with a much more prestigious history in the sport including Austria and England, and they even drew with the eventual winners Portugal in their first game.
This was a story in itself due to the size of the nation, a cold, Northerly lying country that is home to around 320,000 people. For reference, that's about the size of Corpus Christi, Texas. The weather also means that, during the harsh winters, the ground becomes so hard and frozen over that it is impossible to play football outside on actual grass pitches and so they had to invest in indoor playing domes to train and encourage the grassroots development of the game. They have no fully professional league, and many of their team have a second job aside from playing football including their goalkeeper who is a film director by profession, and their coach is actually a dentist. All of this adds up to an unlikely success story when they beat the multimillionaire man-boys of England who all played professionally in the Premier League at the time, the most lucrative soccer league in the world!
Qualifying for the 2018 world cup in Russia, Iceland beat Kosovo, Croatia, Ukraine, and Turkey on their way to the country's first ever world cup finals and it also means they will be the smallest nation ever to play in a world cup. Yet again, the team have upset the odds to find themselves breaking records for their tiny country, and more glory beckons them on.
Their Fans Are The Best
Part of the joy of watching Iceland is actually watching their fans who turn up in their masses to vocally support their team, decked out almost exclusively in the colors of the national flag, many tap into the Viking heritage of their forefathers and turn up with helmets, capes, beards and horns in tow over the top of their team jerseys. The fact that these fans often turn up in their thousands is even more impressive given the population of Iceland, this means a considerable chunk of the country is actually at the games watching (in fact 10% of the country flew out to France to support their team at the Euros) and this includes their president Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson who is regularly pictured at games, in amongst regular fans, not in a box or VIP area, hands clasped nervously together as he waits for his team to score.
One thing that really caught the attention of the world was when the Icelandic team would take part in in their iconic thunderclap chant with their fans after the game, which is where they would head to the stand where their fans were seated and proceed to lead a hand clapping ceremony where they would slowly slap their hands together over their heads whilst shouting 'Hu' louder and louder, speeding up along the way until it eventually culminated in a roar, in something eerily reminiscent of a Viking war chant. It was spine-tinglingly awe-inspiring, and other teams began to ape the chant once Iceland had left the tournament in homage to their incredible feat.
They Have A Lucky Puffin
If none of the earlier points swung you over to supporting these Scandinavian raiders then this point will be a deal breaker...the team has a lucky puffin. Yes, that's right, the diminutive seabird often makes it home along the coastline of Iceland and some locals even eat them on occasion but this one has been saved from the dinner plate as well as from a volcano when the team coach took in the injured animal during the eruption of the volcano eyjafjallajökull and sheltered it from the dust and lava.
The bird has now become an unofficial mascot of the team and is called Peter, best of all, he has his own miniature kit to support the team in. Okay, so this one may or may not be an internet rumor but we really, really hope it's true!
They Are Guaranteed To Win
Iceland is a nation that largely believes in elves and other associated magic, and as such, there is almost no way they cannot win the tournament. Think about it, with Viking magic and a lucky puffin on their side how can they not win the world cup? They have already shown their mettle in Europe, and now they have the opportunity to do it on the world stage they can't possibly mess up. Think about it; they made it to the world cup and your team didn't so it would be foolish to write them off. In any case, we know who we'll be cheering on come the summer. "HU!"