EXCLUSIVE By Kayode Ogundare in Moscow:
Heimir Hallgrimsson, head coach of Iceland, reckons that the prospect of facing African powerhouse Nigeria will be new and exciting for his Cinderella side who have taken the football world by storm since qualifying and impressing at the last European Championships in France in 2016.
Speaking exclusively to Completesportsnigeria.com at the Kremlin Palace, venue of last Friday’s 2018 FIFA World Cup draw in Moscow, Hallgrimsson insists playing different countries with different football philosophies is proof positive that Icelandic football is going in the right direction.
He said: “Facing Nigeria will be a new experience for us. It is our first World Cup so everything is kind of new and exciting. Playing against a South American team and then an African team is different from what we are used to. The pedigree of Nigeria at the World Cup is good. They have experienced players in big teams as well so it’s going to be tough.”
The coach, who is also a trained dentist, admitted that Nigeria would be a difficult nut to crack given the Super Eagles’ antecedents and their recent burst of good form.
“We have to analyse the Nigerian team first. You don’t want to play them the way you will approach a European team so we must work hard to find a good strategy. We didn’t know we wiould play them before now so we have to go and get their videos, study them and come up with a good plan to stop them. As I stand here I don’t have a plan about how to play them and even if I have one I probably won’t tell you,” he said with a good laugh.
Hallgrimsson was in charge when the country of less than 350,000 people stormed the last European Championships in France last yrar, their first ever tournament, and claimed famous scalps including England in a memorable run to the quarter-finals before losing to the host nation.
He gives an insight into what makes the national team to be successful and difficult to beat for the opposition.
“Iceland are a small nation but we have a group of players who have become a unit,” he added. “You can build a good team only in two ways. You can buy the top talents if you are a club or pick the very best if you are a national team but we don’t have much depth in terms of players so we try to make the team stronger as a fighting unit because we don’t have superstars with extra-ordinary quality.
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“The players know their limitations and realise that they function best as a unit so we know what to do to win football matches. And, of course, our fans will be one of our greatest weapons. About 15,000 of them came to see us play at the European Championships in France. “We hope to have a even larger number in Russia next year. The quality of our team is the unity. “We know what we are about and we know what to do to win football matches.”