Football Features

What became of the Iceland team behind one of England’s biggest footballing humiliations?

By Squawka News

Published: 22:00, 16 June 2021

In a competition that became synonymous with unimaginative football and defensive tactics, Iceland provided Euro 2016 with its biggest feel-good story, defying all the odds to reach the quarter-finals.

With a population of just 323,000, Iceland was by far the smallest country ever to qualify for European football’s flagship international tournament and their plucky underdog tag meant that virtually every football fan adopted them as their second-favourite team.

Besides the obvious ‘David vs. Goliath’ narrative that was played out before every one of their fixtures, there was far more to Iceland, both on and off the pitch, that captured the imagination of football fans across the continent.

There was captain Aron Gunnarsson’s Rory Delap-esque long throws that sparked panic in opposition penalty areas, for instance, Eidur Gudjohnsen’s final hurrah at the highest level and, of course, that terrifying Nordic clap that united the players and supporters as one.

Little was expected of Iceland pre-tournament, however, they confounded low expectations placed on them by finishing second in their group to set up a meeting with England in the knockout stages.

That was where Iceland’s Euro 2016 fairy tale was supposed to end but instead, they caused yet another shock as goals from Ragnar Sigurdsson and Kolbein Sigthorrson cancelled out a Wayne Rooney penalty to hand them a priceless 2-1 victory.

As is often the case when an international minnow causes a big splash at a major tournament, a number of Iceland’s players earned transfers elsewhere after their summer heroics. So, where are the 13 players that defeated England in June 2016 now?

Goalkeeper: Hannes Halldórsson

Current club: Valur

2016/17 stats: 35 appearances, 12 clean sheets

Iceland’s No.1 goalkeeper had an up-and-down season at club level leading up to the Euros, spending most of the campaign on Dutch club NEC’s bench before joining Bodo Glimt of Norway from March onwards.

Halldórsson’s impressive displays in France, though, persuaded Danish Superliga outfit Randers FC to sign him permanently and he quickly became their regular ‘keeper between the sticks, prompting Azerbaijani club Qarabag to snap him up in 2018. But Halldórsson, now 36, would spend just a year with Qarabag before signing for Valur in the Icelandic first tier.

Right Back: Birkir Már Sævarsson

Current club: Valur

2016/17 stats: 15 appearances (the Swedish Allsvenskan started in April 2017)

One of the most experienced members of Iceland’s squad, Birkir Már Sævarsson has spent the entirety of his career playing in Scandinavia with Valur in his homeland, SK Brann in Norway and Hammarby IF in Sweden.

He joined Hammarby in January 2015 and racked up just shy of 100 appearances before returning to boyhood club Valur, where he has linked up with his younger brother Aron Elí Sævarsson, who is 13 years his junior and compatriot Halldórsson.

Centre Back: Kári Árnason

Current club: Vikingur Reykjavik

2016/17 stats: 8 appearances, 2 goals

Few members of Iceland’s squad would’ve known as much about their English opponents as Arnason, who spent six years of his career in British football, lining up for Plymouth Argyle, Aberdeen and Rotherham United.

He left the Millers in 2015 to sign for Swedish club Malmo, where he played until joining Cypriot side Omonia SC in January 2017. He later returned to Aberdeen after his short foray along the banks of the River Pedieos, and now plies his trade for Icelandic side Vikingur — after a spell in Turkey with Genclerbirligi.

Centre Back: Ragnar Sigurðsson

Current club: Free agent

2016/17 stats: 18 appearances, 1 goal

The scorer of Iceland’s equaliser against England and one of their most impressive performers throughout the tournament, Ragnar Sigurdsson was linked with a host of top-flight clubs after Euro 2016 had finished.

Eventually, he departed Russian Premier League side Krasnodar for the English Championship to join Fulham, where he started the campaign in the starting XI before losing his place midway through the 2016/17 season. He couldn’t quite restore his place in Slaviša Jokanović’s starting XI and was sold to Rostov in January 2018. After two years with the Russian club, Sigurðsson left for FC Copenhagen and was part of the team that knocked Celtic out of the Europa League.

He recently became a free agent after leaving Rukh Lviv.

Left Back: Ari Freyr Skúlason

Current club: IFK Norrköping

2016/17 stats: 30 appearances, 2 goals

Another Iceland player who started his career at Valur before embarking on a tour across Scandinavia, signing for Swedish sides BK Hacken and GIF Sundsvall prior to testing himself in Danish football with Odense Boldklub.

Skulason, who has spent most of his career as a deep-lying playmaker and is renowned for being a set-piece specialist, left OB to join Belgian Pro League side Lokeren in 2016, where he remained until 2019 before making a move to KV Oostende and more recently IFK Norrköping.

Right Midfield: Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson

Current club: Burnley

2016/17 stats: 24 appearances, 1 goal

Gudmundsson burst onto the scene in his youth by excelling in the Dutch Eredivisie for AZ Alkmaar, whom he had joined as an 18-year-old from Breiðablik in Iceland.

In 2014, he made a surprising move to Charlton Athletic who were playing in the Championship at the time and, despite being unable to help the Addicks avoid relegation, Gudmundsson earned a move to Burnley after their promotion to the Premier League in 2016. He has since become indispensable to the Clarets, featuring 129 times and racking up an impressive 19 assists — although his 2019/20 campaign was hampered by injury.

Centre Midfield: Aron Gunnarsson

Current club: Al-Arabi

2016/17 stats: 41 appearances, 3 goals

The leader of the Iceland clap and their not-so-secret long throw weapon, Gunnarsson had been linked with a summer transfer thanks to his excellent performances and leadership skills.

However, he ended up staying at Cardiff City, who he joined in 2011, and was an influential figure in their rise to the Premier League in 2019, playing a key role under Neil Warnock. Gunnarsson his since joined Qatari club Al Arabi, ending an eight-year stay in Wales.

Centre Midfield: Gylfi Sigurðsson

Current club: Everton

2016/17 stats: 40 appearances, 10 goals

Undoubtedly Iceland’s best and most well-known player at present, Gylfi Sigurdsson has established himself as one of the Premier League’s leading attacking midfielders over the past few years.

The Reading academy graduate was simply sensational for Swansea, becoming the club’s central player with his talismanic performances yielding 37 goals and 30 assists from 131 Premier League appearances.

Unfortunately for the Welsh club, his exploits were not enough to keep them in the top-flight and Everton quickly paid a club-record £40m fee to secure his signature in 2017. Sigurðsson has experienced a somewhat indifferent time with Everton since — for his standards — mixing uninspiring displays with crucial moments, although there have been more of the former in recent times.

Left Midfield: Birkir Bjarnason

Current club: Brescia

2016/17 stats: 28 appearances (20 for Basel, 8 for Aston Villa), 4 goals

Bjarnason attracted the attention of not only football scouts for his ability but modelling agents on account of his good looks, with British online retailer ASOS rumoured to have considered offering him a contract.

Nicknamed ‘Thor’ in Iceland due to his flowing blonde locks, Bjarnason did make the move to England, although he linked up with Aston Villa rather than ASOS in January 2016 after featuring for Basel in the Champions League. He made 16 appearances in total for the Villans before joining Al Arabi and later Brescia.

Striker: Kolbeinn Sigthorsson

Current club: IFK Göteborg

2016/17 stats: 2 appearances

The man who broke English hearts (as well as Joe Hart) in 2016, Sigthorsson seems to be becoming one of those players who thrives on the international stage irrespective of his fortunes at club level.

He is now level with Eidur Gudjohnsen as Iceland’s all-time leading goalscorer and reached that 26-goal mark in 31 fewer caps than the former Chelsea forward. However, he failed to make a single appearance for Galatasaray after joining them on loan in August, returning FC Nantes in Ligue 1 before moving to Swedish clubs AIK and then IFK Göteborg.

Striker: Jón Daði Böðvarsson

Current club: Millwall

2016/17 stats: 48 appearances, 3 goals

Wolves made a number of high-profile acquisitions in 2016 but little attention was paid to the arrival of Bodvarsson, who signed in a relatively low-key move from Kaiserslautern.

Although he isn’t the most prolific striker out there, Bodvarsson’s mere presence and work-rate in attack made him a fan-favourite at Molineux with the forward largely playing the role of super-sub at the club. In the summer of 2017, he joined Championship rivals Reading, where again he established himself as something of a super-sub — a role he now keeps at Millwall.

Substitutes used:

Theódór Elmar ‘Teddy’ Bjarnason

Current club: Lamia

2016/17 stats: 31 appearances, 1 goal

Theodor ‘Teddy’ Bjarnason showed sufficient promise as a youngster to earn a move to Celtic in 2004, although he only made one senior appearance for the Glasgow giants in four years.

The versatile midfielder rebuilt his career away from Parkhead, starring for Lyn Oslo, IFK Goteburg and Randers FC before joining AGF Aarhus in 2015, although he has since departed to Turkey, first turning out for Elazığspor, Gazişehir Gaziantep and Akhisarspor before joining Greek outfit Lamia.

Arnór Ingvi Traustason

Current club: New England Revolution

2016/17 stats: 33 appearances, 3 goals

Touted as one of Iceland’s finest up-and-coming prospects, 25-year-old Traustason impressed as a substitute at Euro 2016, scoring the dramatic injury-time winner against Austria in the group stage.

To date, Traustason has scored five goals in 33 senior appearances for Iceland and Rapid Vienna moved quickly to secure his services after the Euro’s signing him from Norrkoping in Sweden. Things didn’t quite work out for Traustason in the Austrian capital and he joined Malmö FF in 2018 before relocating to MLS with New England Revolution this year.