Paris (AFP) – Iceland captain Aron Gunnarsson said his side can draw inspiration from Wales when the North Atlantic nation take on Euro 2016 hosts France for a place in the semi-finals on Sunday.
Wales stunned Belgium 3-1 on Friday to reach the last four of a major tournament for the first time and Iceland are looking to match that achievement at the Stade de France.
Iceland have already caused one of the biggest shocks in European championship history by dumping out England 2-1 in the last 16.
“Like we knew before the tournament, they weren’t favourites to go that far and we weren’t either,” said Gunnarsson, who declared himself fit after struggling with a back problem.
“It’s a joy to watch and I think Wales are a force to be reckoned with. They’ve got a good squad, good players and a tough togetherness.
“I think they’re showing a great desire and attitude to win matches, and it’s something that we can definitely learn from. I think we are quite similar to them in that sense.”
Cardiff City midfielder Gunnarsson is relishing the chance to test himself against France star Paul Pogba, who has yet to hit top form for Les Bleus.
“It’s always best and most fun to play against the best, and he’s clearly one of the best. He’s one of those players who’s really superb. It’s going to be a hard fight and I’m ready to battle against anyone.”
Iceland’s joint-coach Heimir Hallgrimsson bristled at suggestions his team play a “simple” brand of football, insisting the side are just playing to their strengths.
The islanders were accused of having a “small mentality” by Cristiano Ronaldo following a 1-1 draw in their opening group match.
But Hallgrimsson said any criticism of his side’s approach was unfair.
“We play simple if you say that we play to our strengths. We know what we’re good at, what our strengths are and we play the way that suits us,” he said.
“That’s what I call playing simply, to play to our strengths. If someone thinks that’s boring or not good enough, that’s their opinion.
“We know what we stand for, we know what we can do and we just play that way. The team is coherent and we play well together. We can beat good nations, we’re not making things too complicated.”
– ‘Simple is genius’ –
Veteran co-coach Lars Lagerback, who will leave his role after the tournament, recalled a memory from his first visit to England back in the 1970s.
Lagerback, 67, recounted a meeting with future England boss Ron Greenwood, who told the Swede: “Doing it simple is to be a genius.”
The former Sweden coach, who also guided his country to the last eight at Euro 2004, was confident Iceland would be able to stand up to the challenge of facing France.
“We have always shown we can beat any team,” he said.
“Always in football you have a realistic chance. France is the slight favourite, but I wouldn’t call them a big favourite.”
Earlier, France captain Hugo Lloris had remarked that teams playing the “best football are not necessarily still in the competition”.
Hallgrimsson concluded Iceland’s press conference by quipping: “Let’s hope Lloris and France will join the best teams out of the tournament.”
Estimates vary on how many Icelandics have travelled to France, ranging from 10,000 to 50,000, ahead of their historic quarter-final.
Whatever the number, it’s a large part of the 330,000-strong population, and Gunnarsson is eager to reward the travelling supporters.
“To get all these fans supporting us, it’s just been unbelievable. They’ve spent a lot a money to come here and support us and we really appreciate that. We’re fighting for all Icelanders,” he said.
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