Tiny Iceland Pummels Turkey 3-0 To Inch Closer To World Cup Qualification

Iceland is ensured a top-two finish while Turkey’s World Cup hopes are dead.

Tiny little Iceland, which thrilled neutrals across the world in the 2016 Euros, has nearly qualified for the 2018 World Cup, which would be the first for the island nation. A nation of 334,000, Iceland traveled to Turkey, a nation of nearly 80 million, and pummeled the hosts 3-0 on Friday to climb to the top of the Group I standings with one match left to play in UEFA World Cup qualifying.

Iceland holds a two-point lead over Croatia and Ukraine, with Turkey now three points behind them in fourth. Because Croatia and Ukraine play each other on Monday, Iceland is ensured a top-two finish. The group winner earns automatic qualification to Russia 2018 while the second-place team goes into a playoff. 

Iceland World Cup

Iceland vs. Turkey. Photo: @FIFAWorldCup | Twitter

Iceland has never been to a World Cup, but came close before 2014, losing to Croatia in a playoff. The country’s only major tournament came in 2016 at the European Championships, when they caught the imagination of soccer fans everywhere and their fans’ Viking chant went viral. 

Qualifying for the World Cup would be a massive accomplishment for Iceland given the miniscule population, not to mention there aren’t exactly a lot of grass fields for playing soccer on the oft-frigid island. But a win at home on Monday against Kosovo, which has lost its last eight qualifiers, would send Iceland to Russia. Iceland could even qualify with a loss if Ukraine and Croatia also tie. 

 

On Friday on the road against Turkey, with both teams fighting for their World Cup lives, Iceland took full advantage of limited opportunities. Despite holding 25 percent of possession for the match, Iceland attempted 16 shots to just nine for Turkey, with eight of those on target. 

Johann Gudmundsson and Birkir Bjarnason scored in the first half and Kari Arnason iced the game (see what we did there?) with a goal in the 49th minute. It was hardly an upset given Iceland is ranked higher than Turkey in FIFA's world rankings, but the comprehensive nature of the victory was a surprise. 

By the 60th minute, Turkey and Barcelona midfielder Arda Turan was subbed off with a huge smile on his face, perhaps trying to hide his embarrassment. 

The loss eliminated Turkey, the 2002 third-place finisher, from the 2018 World Cup. Though they’re three points back of Croatia and Ukraine, because those two play each other there’s no way both can lose to allow Turkey to reach second place.

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