Iceland’s ambassador to Norway has found himself being hugged on the streets of Oslo, and fully 1.2 million Norwegian football fans cheered for Iceland when they beat England earlier this week. On Sunday, when Iceland goes on to face France at the European Championships (Euro2016), at least as many Norwegians were expected to follow the action as Iceland-mania sweeps over the country.
With no national team of their own to follow, after Norway failed to qualify for Euro2016, Norwegians football fans and other who normally aren’t interested in football have wholeheartedly adopted Iceland as the team worthy of their support. Interest in the small island nation has never been higher, or perhaps more well-deserved.
“We’re just enjoying the attention and taking it for what it’s worth,” Iceland’s Swedish coach Lars Lagerbäck told Oslo newspaper Dagsavisen on Friday. He was determined, though, not to let all the hysteria distract his team from the job at hand. “It’s a challenge for us to maintain focus on the sports aspect here,” he said.
Norwegian football club Bodø/Glimt was as thrilled as anyone with Iceland’s performance, not least because their Icelandic goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson has emerged as one of the stars of Euro2016. Halldorsson, who has also played for Brann in Bergen and Sandnes and currently is on loan to Bodø from the Dutch Nijmegen club, was duly excused from Bodø/Glimt’s match this weekend against Rosenborg of Trondheim because Halldorsson simply had to remain in France for several more days.
State broadcaster NRK was expecting more record viewership on Sunday night when Iceland plays in the championship’s quarter-finals against France. Other fans were grabbing flights to Paris after securing tickets to watch the action themselves in Saint-Denis. Iceland’s national airline Icelandair was setting up extra flights to transport cheering fans to the historic match. NRK’s live coverage begins at 9pm Sunday.