Iceland become smallest nation ever to qualify for World Cup finals

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Iceland become smallest nation ever to qualify for World Cup finals
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Iceland sealed their place in Russia with a 2-0 victory over Kosovo, becoming the smallest nation ever to qualify for the World Cup finals

Iceland sealed a place in Russia with a 2-0 victory against Kosovo in Reykjavik, becoming the smallest nation ever to qualify for a World Cup finals.

Heimir Hallgrimssons team knew a win against Group Is bottom side would guarantee top spot and an automatic qualifying place, and Evertons Gylfi Sigurdsson settled their nerves with a superbly taken goal five minutes before half-time.

Sigurdsson also set up the second for Johann Berg Gudmundsson midway through the second half as Iceland completed the campaign by winning their final three games, proving their run to the quarter-finals of Euro 2016 was no fluke.

An emphatic 3-0 win in Turkey on Friday had sent Iceland top of the group before the final match, but they struggled to impose themselves against the groups bottom side. Jon Bodvarssons far-post header was easily saved by Samir Ujkani, before Milot Rashica gave Iceland a fright with a long-range shot which flew past Hannes Halldorssons post.

With their next attack, Iceland went ahead. Sigurdsson collected the ball on the edge of the area, wriggled his way past Amir Rrahmani and fired beyond Ujkani for his fourth goal of the qualifiers. The hosts were happy to sit back on their lead until Sigurdsson again got past Rrahmani and crossed for Gudmundsson to make sure of victory in the 68th minute.

Hallgrimsson, a part-time dentist who became sole manager after Euro 2016, when Lars Lagerback left to take the Norway managers job, was lost for words at the final whistle.

Quick Guide

Five other smallest nations to have featured at a World Cup

Guide

Trinidad & Tobago (1.37 million)

– The Soca Warriors made their sole finals appearance in 2006 in Germany, where they featured in the same group as Sven-Goran Eriksson’s England. The team featured a number of players familiar to Premier League fans, including Shaka Hislop, Dwight Yorke and Stern John.

Northern Ireland (1.85 million)

– Michael O’Neill’s side are on course to qualify for the first time since 1986. They also featured in Spain in 1982, having made their debut at the 1958 finals in Sweden.

Slovenia (2.08 million)

– Have featured twice at the finals – in 2002 and 2010. They failed to take a point from three group games in their maiden tournament, but came within a whisker of the last 16 in 2010, when a late defeat to England and a victory for the United States over Algeria eliminated them.

Jamaica (2.89 million)

– The Reggae Boyz were surprise qualifiers for France 98 and after being beaten by Croatia and Argentina in their first two matches, went home on a high with a 2-1 win over Japan.

Wales (3.1 million)

– The Principality made their only previous finals appearance in 1958, when they were beaten by eventual winners Brazil in the quarter-finals.

This is really odd, I dont know what to say. I mean … Pel, Maradona, Aron Einar Gunnarsson, Hallgrimsson said, referencing the Cardiff midfielder at the heart of his side.

Qualification for their first World Cup is a remarkable achievement for Iceland, a country with a population of approximately 335,000. The previous smallest country to have reached the finals was Trinidad & Tobago in 2006 (1.3 million people) followed by Northern Ireland (1.85 million), Slovenia (2.08 million), Jamaica (2.89 million) and Wales (3.1 million).

Icelands
Icelands Aron Einar Gunnarsson and Jon Dadi Bodvarsson celebrate at the final whistle. Photograph: Brynjar Gunnasrson/AP

Prijovic strike secures Serbias passage

Serbias substitute Aleksandar Prijovic struck in the 74th minute to ease nerves in Belgrade, securing a 1-0 win against Georgia that confirmed their first participation in a major tournament since 2010.

The Republic of Irelands win in Wales meant that even a goalless draw would have seen Serbia through, but Prijovics fine finish from Aleksandar Mitrovics cross made certain of qualification, allowing home fans to celebrate in Red Stars Rajko Mitic Stadium.

Aleksandar
Aleksandar Prijovic celebrates after his goal made sure of Serbias place at next summers World Cup. Photograph: Andrej Cukic/EPA

Croatia defeated Ukraine 2-0 in Kyiv to secure second place in Group I and a playoff place. Andrej Kramarics secondhalf double earned the victory after the hosts had looked the better side in the first half. Kramarics header from Luka Modrics cross from the right broke the deadlock in the 62nd minute, before the Hoffenheim striker converted Ivan Rakitics through ball at the far post eight minutes later.

Asier Illarramendi scored a long-range winner for Spain in Israel, ensuring the Group G winners finished their campaign with nine wins from 10 games. Italy, already assured of a playoff place, won 1-0 in Albania through Antonio Candrevas second-half goal.

In matches between already eliminated sides, Macedonia beat Liechtenstein 4-0, Finland drew 2-2 with Turkey and Austria won 1-0 in Moldova.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/oct/09/iceland-qualify-world-cup-smallest-nation

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