Iceland have secured a spot at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, becoming the smallest nation by population to ever qualify for the showpiece event.
Gylfi Sigurdsson and Johann Berg Gudmundsson scored as Iceland earned a 2-0 victory against Kosovo on Monday, giving the team a record of seven wins, one draw and two defeats — two points clear of Croatia for the top spot in Group I of UEFA World Cup qualifying.
With some 335,000 residents, Iceland easily bested Trinidad & Tobago’s population of 1.3 million in 2006 to become the smallest nation to secure passage to the World Cup finals.
Put in perspective, that’s about one-quarter that of Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, with the smallest population in the country.
Incredibly, the island nation has just 20,000 registered footballers, male and female, making the nation one of the smallest playing pools on the planet.
But Iceland also boasts one UEFA-qualified coach per 500 inhabitants, compared to one per 10,000 in England, and the country has gained acclaim for the standard of its coaching and youth development in recent years.
After years of mediocre performances in qualifying competition, that investment is beginning to pay off at the senior level.
The World Cup appearance comes after Iceland marked their first trip to the European Championship in 2016, earning a famous 2-1 win over England en route to a quarter-final run.
Remember the Euros? That was really fun. NOW WE ARE GOING TO THE WORLD CUP!!!!!!!!!! ICELAND KEEPS SHOCKING THE WORLD!!
— Icelandic Football (@icelandfootball) October 9, 2017
Iceland also came close to earning qualification for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, finishing second in their group to Switzerland before falling 2-0 on aggregate to Croatia in a play-off.
But after 12 failed qualifying campaigns, 13 has proven the lucky number for the nation, who continue to show population size does not matter when it comes to excelling at international level.