Roughly a tenth of the country’s entire population turned out to cheer them on
When you think of Iceland what comes to mind?
Perhaps you think of tranquil hot springs, beautifully knitted sweaters, or a Björk song or two. Sure, you could think of a lot of things, but Iceland’s athletic prowess is not likely to be one of them.
But today, that all changes. On Monday, the Icelandic national soccer team pulled off a victory no one expected by beating England at the Euro 2016 tournament, or as The Guardian noted, “For the second time in a week, England suffered an ignominious exit from Europe.”
The team surpassed England, winning by 2-1. While the win wasn’t by an astonishing margin, when you consider the differences between the two countries even the smallest of wins seems insurmountable.
Take, for example, the fact that Iceland has a population of just more than 323,000. England has more than 53 million. Picking soccer stars out of millions vs. thousands seems as though it should be easier, right?
Iceland, which according to ESPN has as many registered soccer players as the state of Rhode Island, may lack a large talent pool but it more than makes up for it in heart.
As TIME reports, more than 30,000 Icelanders, or 10 percent of the total population, bought tickets to Euro 2016 to watch their team play. They are the smallest country to ever make it to the event’s quarter finals.
Beyond support by the Icelandic populous, the government also seems to be throwing its (slight) weight behind the growing demand for soccer in the country. As The Telegraph reports, the country has dumped millions into building all-weather stadiums powered by geothermal lava flow to keep players practicing.
Next up in the Euro 2016, the tiny country will meet up with France, a rival sure to bring one hell of a game, though it may be hard to root for anyone other than this ultimate underdog.