Iceland President: "Ours is a victory for the whole of sport"
Gudni Johannesson – who was elected Iceland’s new president on the weekend – spoke exclusively to AS just hours after his country's historic 2-1 defeat of England.
What are your thoughts on Iceland’s historic victory over England? It was enormous, a great success. There aren’t any words to describe what we did. We’ve had great victories in Icelandic sport before and it’s never easy to compare them, but in terms of magnitude and global interest, I would say this is the best sporting triumph in our country’s history.
Is the mental strength we’ve seen from this Iceland team characteristic of all Icelandic people? Icelandic people are like that, there’s no doubting it. We’re a small nation, and we have our logistical disadvantages, but in sport we all pull together. Even if we had lost to England, the players would have gone home as heroes.
Can you beat France? Why not! We’re really looking forward to that game now. If we beat England, then we can do it against France too, although be it in their own backyard in front of their own fans.
You were at the game in Nice, are you going to be supporting the team in Saint Denis? I’ll try to be. I’m going to have to set aside a space in my agenda as no one thought we’d ever get this far. Yeah, I’m sure I’ll go.
"Although you might be small, you can still do great things"
Do you think Iceland’s success at the Euros has transcended sport? Ours is a victory for sport as a whole and a demonstration that although you might be small, you can still do great things. My message is that if you have a goal, it’s necessary to work to achieve it. Pulling together as one you can achieve anything.
It was the general elections in Iceland on the weekend and you were elected as President. Do you think the optimism in Iceland at the moment could have influenced what’s happened here in France? Yes, there’s been a sensation of optimism about the future during the election, and this is a message that has been transmitted here by the team and the fans. Icelandic people, as in the Euros, have wanted to be positive and look forward, and that is something we are all benefitting from now. The Euros has allowed us to see that if Icelandics stick together, we can do anything that we put our minds to.
How is it possible that such a small country of just 340,000 people can find themselves amongst the best football sides in Europe? When the game starts its just 11 versus 11. We are conscious of the fact that to get to where we are now, that a combination of ability, tactics, training, trust, as well as bit of luck, have all been required. We’ve also needed to be brave. That’s how we’ve done it really. When you’re brave, generally you are luckier.
99.8% of Iceland tuned into the match against England on TV. How about that!? It’s crazy. I saw the group stages on TV when I was back there campaigning. The first two matches I saw in tiny fishing villages in the north and east of the country, while the third I saw in Reykjavík. Everyone is glued, even those who aren’t interested in football or in sport. There’s a lot of national pride.
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