SIGTHORSSON A KEY PART OF EXCELLENT ICELAND SIDE
Posted on 07th September 2015
It is truly remarkable that, following an incredible 1-0 win against the Netherlands in Amsterdam last week, tiny Iceland – which is home to just 323,000 people – sat at the summit of a Euro 2016 qualifying group containing the Dutch (population 16.8 million), Turkey (75 million), Czech Republic (10.5 million), Latvia (two million) and Kazakhstan (17 million).
Securing a 0-0 draw with the latter nation in Reykjavik on Sunday – the seventh time they have avoided defeat in eight qualification matches – confirmed Iceland’s place in France for what will be their debut appearance in a major international tournament next summer, an astonishing achievement for a side who were thrashed 7-1 by Slovenia and 4-0 by Romania in the mid-1990s.
Swansea City’s Gylfi Sigurdsson and former Chelsea and Barcelona star Eidur Gudjohnsen are the two most well-known members of the current squad, but Nantes striker Kolbeinn Sigthorsson is among the most important. The 25-year-old was excellent against Danny Blind’s Netherlands outfit, leading the line expertly as Iceland picked up their greatest result of all-time.
Many observers claimed – somewhat harshly – that Sigthorsson’s display for his country last Thursday was the best he had ever played at the Amsterdam ArenA, his home stadium during a four-year spell at Ajax that began in 2011 and ended this summer.
It is fair to say that the frontman was unable to reach the level that illustrious predecessors such as Marco van Basten, Dennis Bergkamp and Zlatan Ibrahimovic regularly hit, but his return of 31 goals in 80 league appearances for the Dutch giants was respectable enough.
Sigthorsson, though, certainly seems a better fit with his national side than he was with Ajax. Iceland made good use of his strength and aerial ability against the Netherlands, frequently hitting loan diagonals towards Sigthorsson, who generally held the ball up magnificently and brought his team-mates into play. As the hosts closed Iceland down high up the pitch early on, Sigthorsson represented the ideal outlet, allowing his side to go long and beat the Dutch press.
Bruno Martins Indi’s sending-off after 32 minutes altered the complexion of the encounter, handing Iceland a man advantage and the opportunity to enjoy longer spells of possession. When Sigurdsson buried a penalty early in the second half, the Netherlands were forced to push up the pitch and seek out an equaliser; target man Sigthorsson became increasingly important at holding onto the ball and providing relief to a defensive unit that may otherwise have come under siege.
The build-up to the decisive spot kick was probably the best example of the role the 25-year-old played until he was withdrawn in the 64th minute. A long pass forward was nodded down by Sigthorsson to midfielder Birkir Bjarnason, who pushed the ball past Gregory van der Wiel and drew a foul from the Paris Saint-Germain right-back.
The move to Nantes should help Sigthorsson, who thrives most when he is deployed as an out-and-out centre-forward and acts as a powerful, hard-working focal point for his team; while not ideally suited to Ajax’s methods and style of play, Sigthorsson is a perfectly competent striker who should prove his worth in Ligue 1 this term.
Three starts have yet to field a goal in France’s top flight, but the former AZ Alkmaar man has a big role to play for the side currently seventh in the early standings, just as he does for his country at the European Championship in nine months’ time.
About the Author – Greg Lea
Freelance football writer. Work published by FourFourTwo, The Guardian, World Soccer, Goal, The National, Squawka, Eurosport, The Blizzard + others.