LONDON, May 30 — Johann Berg Gudmundsson insists Iceland’s daunting World Cup group holds no fears for his giant-killing country as they aim to make a dream debut in the tournament.
Burnley winger Gudmundsson will be part of Iceland’s squad in Russia next month when his country take part in their first World Cup.
Heimir Hallgrimsson’s side have been given a tough baptism, with Argentina, Croatia and Nigeria their group-stage opponents.
But Gudmundsson and company showed they shouldn’t be underestimated with their fairytale run at Euro 2016.
Iceland earned a shock draw against eventual champions Portugal in their first ever group match at a major tournament — Gudmundsson setting up their goal for Birkir Bjarnason.
A draw with Hungary and a win over Austria sent Iceland into the knockout stage.
Their adventure peaked with an astonishing 2-1 win against England as Iceland came from a goal down to condemn Roy Hodgson’s team to a humiliating last-16 exit.
Iceland were eliminated in the quarter-finals when hosts France romped to a 5-2 victory.
But Gudmundsson says that successful campaign gives Iceland belief they can upset the odds again in Russia.
“We’re still a small nation. We still don’t have players playing for the biggest clubs in Europe so we’re always going to be underdogs I think,” he said.
“But people are going to be looking for us definitely and seeing how we’re doing and the opposition as well is going to give us definitely more respect than they did in the past.
“So people are probably going to have a bit more expectation but we know what we can do and we know it’s going to be tough.”
Iceland’s toughest task will come in their opening match against 2014 World Cup runners-up Argentina, who can call on Barcelona legend Lionel Messi and a host of other star names.
Bring on Messi
Yet Gudmundsson, 27, insists Iceland can handle Messi after keeping Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo in check at Euro 2016.
“I said before when it was announced, the group games, I wanted either Brazil or Argentina so I got one of them,” he said.
“For the first game of the Euros we played Ronaldo so this time it’s going to be Messi. We kept Ronaldo quite quiet so hopefully we can do the same against Messi.
“We know we’re probably going to be defending for a lot of the time and obviously he’s one of the best players in the world and he can turn it on.
“But it’s just a time when you’ve just got to defend and see where it takes us.”
Unfancied Burnley’s ascent in the Premier League mirrors Iceland’s unexpected success.
And the unheralded Gudmundsson knows all about exceeding expectations himself.
He toiled in anonymity with Dutch club AZ Alkmaar and English lower-league side Charlton Athletic before moving to Burnley in 2016.
Gudmundsson, who made his Iceland debut in 2008, will go into the World Cup buoyed by signing a new contract with Burnley, who earned a place in next season’s Europa League with an impressive seventh-place finish.
With his club future secure, Gudmundsson can focus on helping Iceland write another famous chapter in their inspirational story.
“When I was younger I never thought I would play in the World Cup with Iceland,” he said.
“I always dreamed of it, just never thought it would be a reality.
“It’s fantastic for a small nation like Iceland to qualify. It’s a massive achievement.” — AFP