England’s exit to Iceland may be looked upon in a far different light, should the country with the smallest population ever to make a major tournament actually win Euro 2016.
Sound ridiculous, absurd even? This may be the case, but it is probably a good time to travel back in time.
At the start of the 2015/16 Premier League season, what would punters have said (other than a handful of daredevils) about Leicester City winning the English crown?
The Foxes set the benchmark for odds defiance recently and there is arguably no greater inspiration for Lars Lagerback’s heroic Iceland outfit that their status as 40/1 outsiders in the Euro 2016 quarter finals can be flouted.
Perhaps even more prominently for France’s last-eight opponents are the shining examples of European Championship conquests of the past, by outsiders with arguably less going for them on the surface than Iceland, other than a shorter route to the showpiece.
Denmark did not even officially qualify for Euro 1992 (whereas Iceland came second to the Czech Republic having beaten Holland home and away in Group A) before they wriggled through a group containing England and France at the tournament.
Amazingly, European champions Holland and world champions Germany were the Danes’ last victims in the competition.
In 2004 Greece’s own outrageous triumph is arguably even more inspirational given the tournament had been expanded to 16 teams by then and the unfashionable rank outsiders stuck firmly to their own defence-first gameplan.
The Icelanders look nothing if not exceptionally well drilled. The Greeks beat the hosts Portugal twice as well, in the opening game and then again in the final.
If Iceland needed motivation to get past France next then it’s there in neon lights. Les Bleus have hardly lit up the tournament either, showing moments of brilliance to punctuate long periods of vulnerability and disjointedness, as shown when 1-0 down to Republic of Ireland at half-time in the round of 16.
It’s easy to get fixated by the size of Iceland’s population (300,000ish) but this is a team blessed with a sprinkling of very talented individuals given the platform to perform thanks to the hard graft of their teammates.
As the Three Lions found out to their dismay, Iceland are ultra efficient when they break and that long throw is one hell of a weapon no matter how much the purists despise such an antiquated tactic.
Only Wales and Italy left in the competition can boast more accurate shooting, while the minnows stand alone in terms of conversion rate.
Blue appears to be the colour this year and a punt on Iceland could yet reward the brave.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.