There is nothing in sport quite like celebrating an upset, writes GARY LEMKE.
At last year’s Rugby World Cup we saw Japan pull off the biggest rugby upset in history when they beat the Springboks. By the end of the match, even some die-hard Bok supporters were willing Japan on to victory. It was one of the great sporting moments. It always is when David slays Goliath.
Iceland’s passage to the quarter-finals of Euro 2016, where they face France, is another of those which will be replayed and repeated for generations to come.
Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo must have choked on his breakfast the morning after Iceland came from a Wayne Rooney goal down to knock out England in the last 16. After all, he had – in the wake of Portugal’s 1-1 group draw with the tiny country with an overall population of just 330 000 – lambasted them. ‘When they don’t try to play and just defend, defend, defend this in my opinion, shows a small mentality and they are not going to do anything in the competition.’
Well, they might not have ‘done anything’, but they finished above Portugal in the group and then beat 10th-ranked Austria and 11th-ranked England in setting up a meeting with France, who, we must say, are ranked 17th by Fifa … Iceland are as high as 34, and actually beat the Netherlands in Euro qualifying so maybe the patronising of them as a ‘small team’ should stop right now.
On the night Iceland can probably count themselves unlucky to have only won 2-1. While England had the lion’s share of possession, chances were few and between, while Joe Hart had to come to his country’s rescue with at least two fine saves to prevent even further red faces.
Yet, it was in the commentary box that we saw what these Euros mean to Iceland. (For a reminder watch HERE!)
In the wake of the last-minute winner against Austria, commentator Gudmundur Benediktsson’s outburst went viral. He simply couldn’t contain himself and it showed what it meant to him and his country on a major sporting stage. Those who criticise Australian and New Zealand rugby commentators of being biased should look away now.
In describing the winning goal, one which secured Iceland’s place in the last 16, Benediktsson said: ‘It’s all open! Theodór Elmar is alone here on their side of the pitch. They are three on two! Emmi (short for Elmar)! Go into the box! Go into the box! EMMI! Ahhh … Yes… yaaaaa… yaaaaaaaaa… JAAAAA… JAAAAA … Jarghaah … we are winning this! We are through to the final 16! We are through to the final 16! We are winning Austria! The voice has gone! But that doesn’t matter! We have qualified! Arnór Ingvi Traustason scores! Iceland two Austria one! What? The final whistle has been blown here, and never, ever have I felt so good! Arnór Yngvi Traustason securing our first victory! Never lost! Don’t forget … never lost! But the first victory a fact! Iceland two Austria one! Thanks for coming Austria! Thanks for coming!’
However, another upset was beckoning, because Iceland were to eliminate an England team that had been praised ‘for avoiding Portugal’ in the last 16 and been given ‘the easiest passage of those in the bottom half of the draw’ to the quarter-finals. Sport’s gods dictated otherwise.
Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t the greatest upset in England’s football history on a big stage. After all, Iceland are, as mentioned ranked No34 and will move into the 20s after the tournament.
It was back in September 1981 that England lost a World Cup qualifier to Norway, also 2-1 and also after taking the lead at 1-0.
The match was played in Oslo and Norway were the overwhelming underdogs. All that England needed to do was stay on their feet for 90 minutes and they’d come away with a win. Much like the consensus prior to Iceland.
At the final whistle the commentator, Bjorge Lillelien, provided one of sport’s most memorable soundbites, on Norwegian TV.
‘Lord Nelson!’ There was a pause. It didn’t last.
‘Sir Winston Churchill!
‘Sir Anthony Eden!
And then … ‘Maggie Thatcher! Can you hear me?
‘Maggie Thatcher. Maggie Thatcher, your boys took a hell of a beating! Your boys took a hell of a beating!’
Don’t you just love sport?