Iceland had appointed West German coach Sigfried Held after their failed attempt at reaching Mexico ’86. Not that qualification had ever been expected. Iceland were footballing minnows, and would typically occupy one of the two bottom places in their qualifying group. Held was 43 years of age by the time of his appointment, and he would lead Iceland through a fine qualification campaign for the 1988 European Championships, where they twice beat their Nordic compatriots Norway. They also had fine draws at home to France, just after ‘les Bleus’ had won bronze medals in Mexico, and the Soviet Union. With a total of six points from eight matches, Iceland finished level with the mighty French, whose decline, it must be added, had already set in, and at some pace. Read more …
Qualifier 1: Iceland 1-1 Soviet Union
31.08.1988, Laugardalsvöllur (Reykjavík)
Line-up (5-3-2): Sigurðsson – Þórðarson, Sæ. Jónsson, Bergsson, Eðvaldsson (c), Gíslason – Ormslev, Si. Jónsson, Sigurvinsson – Grétarsson (G Torfason 85), Guðjohnsen
A performance to take big heart from. Iceland scored early, sat deep and frustrated their opponents, and countered well. Unlucky to meet an opposing goalkeeper of Dasayev’s calibre, as Grétarsson (twice) and Guðjohnsen so easily could’ve added to the tally. Uplifting start against the group favourites.
Friendly : Iceland 0-3 Hungary
Line-up: Sigurðsson – Þórðarson, Sæ. Jónsson, Bergsson, Eðvaldsson (c), Gíslason – Ormslev (Þorkelsson 80), Si. Jónsson, Ó Torfason – Grétarsson, Margeirsson (Davíðsson 75)
Friendly : Denmark 1-0 Iceland
Line-up: Sigurðsson (Friðriksson 16) – Þórðarson, Sæ. Jónsson, Bergsson, Eðvaldsson (c), Þorkelsson (Arnþórsson h-t) – Gíslason, Ó Torfason, Sigurvinsson – G Torfason, Margeirsson
Qualifier 2: Turkey 1-1 Iceland
12.10.1988, İnönü Stadyumu (Istanbul)
Goal: G Torfason
Line-up (5-3-2): Friðriksson – Þórðarson, Sæ. Jónsson, Bergsson, Eðvaldsson (c), Gíslason – Margeirsson, Ó Torfason, Arnþórsson (Áskelsson 77) – Guðjohnsen, G Torfason
Iceland had to make do without five of the players who had started against the Soviet Union, and so a point in hostile surroundings would’ve been a triumph. They had been on the back foot for large portions of the match, though they defended resiliently, rarely giving away big opportunities. However, they had stand-in goalkeeper Friðriksson to thank for a first half injury time penalty save from Tanju, and the Denmark based ‘keeper saved another opportunity from the same striker in the second half. Guðmundur Torfason scored with a low close range shot in a rare Iceland foray in the second half, but they inevitably conceded an equalizer after a strong spell of dominance from the hosts.
Qualifier 3: East Germany 2-0 Iceland
19.10.1988, Jahnsportpark (East Berlin)
Line-up (5-3-2): Sigurðsson – Þórðarson, Sæ. Jónsson, Bergsson, Eðvaldsson (c), Gíslason – Guðjohnsen, Ó Torfason, Sigurvinsson – G Torfason (Margeirsson 78), Grétarsson
After their two earlier qualification draws, Iceland are generally second best against the hosts, who twice score through their leading player Thom. Iceland are blamed for a somewhat physical approach by host manager Stange, who particularly labels right-back Þórðarson overly eager. Central defender Jónsson got his marching orders for shoving home striker Kirsten to the ground, though the tumble had been very dramatic, something which could’ve helped the referee promptly producing the red card. Despite having three key players back in the selection since the week before, Iceland had to return home empty-handed.
Friendly: Iceland 0-2 England B
Line-up: Sigurðsson (Hreiðarsson h-t) – Þórðarson, Á Jónsson, Bergsson, Eðvaldsson (c), Gíslason – Margeirsson, Ó Torfason (Sæ. Jónsson 49), Arnþórsson (Þorkelsson 38) – G Torfason, Áskelsson (Þ Örlygsson 83)
Qualifier 4: Soviet Union 1-1 Iceland
31.05.1989, Tsentralny Stadion, Luzhniki (Moscow)
Line-up (5-3-2): Sigurðsson – Þórðarsson, Á Jónsson, Bergsson, Eðvaldsson (c), Gíslason – Ó Torfason (Kristinsson 83), Si. Jónsson, Arnþórsson – Grétarsson, G Torfason (Áskelsson 69)
Manager Held came with a game plan of sitting back, slowing down and shutting the hosts out. They were without two of their arguably more creative players in Sigurvinsson and Guðjohnsen, and such tactics, especially away to a formidable opponent such as the losing European Championships finalists, could well be understood. Iceland succeeded in stopping the USSR from getting into their stride, though they did fall behind following a direct free-kick on 65 minutes. Four minutes from time, an unlikely equalizer came about following Þórðarsson’s long throw and Eðvaldsson’s flick: substitute Áskelsson’s finish was sublime. A second 1-1 against the Soviet Union was enough to move the visitors off the bottom of the table.
Qualifier 5: Iceland 0-0 Austria
14.06.1989, Laugardalsvöllur (Reykjavík)
Line-up (5-3-2): Sigurðsson – Þórðarsson, Sæ. Jónsson, Bergsson, Eðvaldsson (c), Gíslason (Þorkelsson 64) – Arnþórsson, Si. Jónsson, Sigurvinsson – Grétarsson, G Torfason
The physically stronger Iceland side pinned their visitors back for much of the evening, but despite a number of big goalscoring opportunities they could not make their advantage count. They were again without lively forward Guðjohnsen, but midfield ace Sigurvinsson had returned to the squad since the 1-1 draw in Moscow. Captain Eðvaldsson had a teriffically headed goal ruled out for climbing on an opponent towards the end of the first half, and after the break both Grétarsson (twice) and Sigurvinsson failed to convert big chances in front of a packed Laugardalsvöllur.
Qualifier 6: Austria 2-1 Iceland
23.08.1989, Stadion Lehen (Salzburg)
Line-up (5-3-2): Sigurðsson – Þórðarsson, Sæ. Jónsson (c), Bergsson, Á Jónsson, Gíslason – Margeirsson (Ó Torfason 80), Si. Jónsson, Arnþórsson (Kristinsson 70) – Grétarsson, G Torfason
Surely, Iceland were not expecting a similar picture to this game as they’d had when they’d met ten weeks earlier. They’d bossed the Austrians, but failed to take their chances. In a tight Salzburg stadium, it was the hosts who wanted to be in command, but Iceland defended doggedly, and used their physical advantage well. However, the visitors again squandered a couple of chances, and despite getting back to level terms shortly after falling behind early in the second half, through a lovely Margeirsson strike, they failed to produce further goal threat. Their campaign was more or less over with this defeat, and they’d have to make do without Þórðarson and Sigurður Jónsson through suspension next time aroun.
Qualifier 7: Iceland 0-3 East Germany
06.09.1989, Laugardalsvöllur (Reykjavík)
Line-up (5-3-2): Friðriksson – Gíslason, Sæ. Jónsson (c), Bergsson, Á Jónsson, Þorkelsson – Guðjohnsen (Margeirsson 59), Ó Torfason, Sigurvinsson – Grétarsson, G Torfason
Manager Held had been hit by a wave of absentees through the defensive core of his team: There was no Sigurðsson, Eðvaldsson, Þórðarsson and (Sigurður) Jónsson, something which took away their much needed aggression levels. Sure, there was the return of fancied players such as Guðjohnsen and Sigurvinsson in midfield, but this failed to boost them as they were second best through most of a goalless first half. After the break, Iceland have their best opportunity as Grétarsson almost finds Guðjohnsen in the centre, but Stübner clears the ball away via the post. Then Iceland completely fall apart once they’ve conceded, and three goals in quick succession make sure they fail miserably in this their final attempt to get back into World Cup contention. Easily their worst performance of the qualification.
Change of manager
Sigfried Held had been offered the position to become Turkish club side Galatasaray’s next manager. The first reports of an actual meeting between Galatasaray and Held are from July 4 (Dagblaðið Vísir). Having reached the semi-final of the European Cup in 1988/89, the Istanbul club were becoming a major European force. Their manager Mustafa Denizli had accepted a job offer from Alemannia Aachen, who had just been relegated from 2.Bundesliga (!), and the Galatasaray board of directors wanted the former West Germany international to succeed him. It appears likely that Held accepted the conditions that the Turkish giants were offering him early in July. Originally, he had wanted to be with the Icelandic team until the end of the qualification, but Galatasaray had demanded he be with them, and them only, from after Iceland’s home match with East Germany. Until then, he had doubled up as manager for club and country. His Iceland assistant Guðni Kjartansson, himself a former national team manager (in 1980/81), would succeed Helm temporarily for the meeting with Turkey.
Qualifier 8: Iceland 2-1 Turkey
20.09.1989, Laugardalsvöllur (Reykjavík)
Goals: Pétursson 2
Line-up (5-3-2): Sigurðsson – Þórðarsson, Gíslason, Bergsson, Oddsson, Örlygsson – Guðjohnsen, Kristinsson, Sigurvinsson (c) – Grétarsson (Margeirsson 61), Pétursson
Iceland stood no chance of qualifying following two successive defeats, but with Guðni Kjartansson put temporarily in charge, the players clearly wanted to demonstrate their desire to win. They showed battle which had been lacking against GDR. They’d accommodated for debutant Gunnar Oddsson in a new-look central defensive line, whilst Rúnar Kristinsson gave a fine account of himself in the centre of the pitch. Up top, Pétur Pétursson was back in the national team after two years away, and he took his two goals brilliantly for the hosts to claim a strong win in their ultimate qualifier. They owed to goalkeeper Bjarni Sigurðsson for some fine stops, and just before full time survived a big scare when Turkey hit the bar from 25 yards. The win has left them with something to build from.
Probably according to expectations beforehand, Iceland finished bottom of their qualifying group. However, they had been involved in a lot of tight affairs, and their two main feats had obviously been drawing twice with the Soviet Union. The win against a Turkish side which had come to Reykjavik looking for both points had also been a nice feather in the cap. Iceland had been in the race for qualification until their penultimate game, which probably was also better than had been expected from them. Despite avoiding defeat in five of their eight matches, Iceland finished adrift of the other four, so even with the general positivity surrounding their campaign, there was something of a familiar outcome.
Iceland were set up in 5-3-2 in all of their eight matches. Their strengths were their aggression levels, their team spirit and their set-pieces. They had little fluidity in open play, although they did possess attacking players with a certain level of flair. This was typically personified through either Sigurður Grétarsson or Arnór Guðjohnsen, though the latter missed three successive qualifiers through injury until he was available again for the crunch match at home to GDR. Another highly vital player was Ásgeir Sigurvinsson. The West German Bundesliga ace appeared in five games, and played as an inside left midfielder, typically being their playmaker. Sigurvinsson possessed a terrific left foot and excellent vision, and in combination these features saw him emerge, yet again, as one of their key players. Ultimately, though, they were let down by their finishing, as they had more than enough chances to have beaten Austria in their home game. Had they won, Iceland would’ve been in a decent position for their final three games. However, they would have to make do without key players from one game to another, and this inconsistency in their line-ups certainly did not aid Sigfried Held’s plight.
One player who showed a fine level of consistency, though, was Guðni Bergsson, their libero throughout the qualification. He did not miss a single minute of action. Versatile defender Gunnar Gíslason was another one who started every game, whereas right-sided defender Ólafur Þórðarsson turned into a key member of the team during the campaign with his high aggression levels. Goalkeeper Bjarni Sigurðsson was another one who did well, while highly experienced central defender Atli Eðvaldsson was a big miss as he had to see their final three qualifiers from the sidelines due to injury. Another big defender, Sævar Jónsson, missed two matches because of suspension. He had carried the captain’s armband in Eðvaldsson’s absence, whilst this honour had gone to Sigurvinsson for their final qualifier at home to Turkey, when neither of the two big defenders had been available.
In midfield, England based Sigurður Jónsson did well, but only participated in half of their matches. Whenever he was out, his absence was felt. He would occupy the central among the three midfield positions, and no one could quite fill his role when he was not present, even if the emerging Rúnar Kristinsson did well in the final game. Arnór Guðjohnsen had started out as an attacker, but would slot into the inside right midfield position for his three final appearances in the ’90 qualification. Others who filled the midfield positions and who emerged with some credit were Ragnar Margeirsson, indeed their goalscorer in Austria with an excellent strike, and Pétur Arnþórsson. The seasoned Ómar Torfason started half of their matches, but did not have the best of campaigns.
As manager Held had already agreed to take over Turkish club Galatasaray earlier in the summer of ’89, he had not been allowed to lead Iceland for the final qualifier against Turkey. His assistant Guðni Kjartansson had stepped in, and he seemed to have brought a renewed level of optimism. He had also given a place in the starting eleven to three players who had not featured in the qualification until then. They had been defender Gunnar Oddsson, midfield man Rúnar Kristinsson and striker Pétur Pétursson. The latter had even won the plaudits through his brace.
Posterity shows that the 2-1 win against Turkey was Sigurvinsson’s final ever international. Ómar Torfason was another profile who would never again feature at international level. Apart from those two, the remaining squad members would look ahead to Iceland’s next qualification, the one ahead of the 1992 European Championships.
Final table position: 5 (out of 5)
Total record: 8 1 4 3 6-11 6
Home record: 4 1 2 1 3-5 4
Away record: 4 0 2 2 3-6 2
Number of players used: 23
Number of players including unused substitutes: 30
Ever-presents (720 mins): 1 (Bergsson)
Leading goalscorer: Pétursson (2)
Yellow/red cards: 13/1
|Jónsson, Ágúst Már||3||3||2||270||1/0|
– game by game
|Player||Sov (h)||Tur (a)||Gdr (a)||Sov (a)||Aut (h)||Aut (a)||Gdr (h)||Tur (h)||Apps||Mins|
|Jónsson, Á M||R||R||90||90||90||3||270|
|Jónsson, Sæ.||90||90||70 (s.o.)||90||90||90||6||520|
|Pos||Player||Average rating||Number of rated games|
28.03.1990 Luxembourg 1-2 Iceland
03.04.1990 Bermuda 0-4 Iceland
08.04.1990 United States 4-1 Iceland