Calli and I have always felt that one of the best ways to experience the culture of the country you’re traveling in is to go to a sporting event. In Canada, that obviously means a hockey game; in Europe that means football (aka soccer). On our last trip through western Europe, Calli and I managed to get to 3 matches (Chelsea, Atletico Madrid, and Wolfsburg), and we absolutely enjoyed each one. We (read Travis) decided that we would try and get to even more this time.
So, just 4 days into our trip** we found ourselves walking through the Reykjavik Botanical Gardens to the national stadium (Laugardalsvöllur) for the World Cup Qualifier between Iceland and Albania.
Traditionally Iceland has not been a powerhouse in the European football world, having never qualified for a major tournament. But this year has a special feeling about it, and Iceland were right in the mix for second place in their group and a trip to the playoff round. This made for an extra special buzz surrounding the game. A win would put Iceland in the driver’s seat going into the last two matches.
We had seen the stadium being prepared for two days (as it was just a short walk from our hotel on our way to the city centre), and it was finally time. As soon as we stepped out our door we could hear the fans. They were going crazy! We arrived at the field to see fans brimming with anticipation and waving Icelandic flags (we were given one as well, and Calli had a field day waving it ALL night!).
Soon after we took our seats, the hardcore fans began filtering in – each one seemed to be carrying a piece of a drum set/tub/french horn/giant Iceland flag/you get the picture. The drumset was assembled in the stand and a (very talented) drummer began the songs. We found out quickly that in Iceland, in addition to the regulars (“When the saints go marching in”, etc.) you also get renditions of modern indie rock songs with lyrics tailored to the Icelandic National Team. The hardcore fans sang and managed to get everyone up around them (including us) about every ten minutes.
The game itself started well for Iceland, they dominated in possession and were creating some great chances when, just 10 minutes in, Albania scored out of the blue from about 20 yards out. The few cold Albanians that had made the trek went wild, but the Iceland fans kept hoping their chance would come and, about 20 minutes later they equalized.
After halftime and some good old “crossbar challenge”, Iceland came out in a blaze. They pressured and pressured, and were eventually rewarded with a goal ten minutes into the second half. Then the anxiety set in. Albania threw caution to the wind and started attacking, the strong Reykjavik wind aiding them in their pursuit of an equalizing goal. But it was not to be. Iceland won 2-1 and went to second in the group with just two games remaining. The fans were ecstatic!
In all, we had a blast and would recommend anyone to check if games are playing near you when you are in Europe. We have a few more games planned out and are even more excited after a good start!
If anyone is keeping track “we” are still undefeated in all games (3 wins and 1 draw so far!)…Hertha Berlin will be pleased!
** I finally learned. After going to games on the first day of my last two trips to Europe and suffering through the jetlag, I waited until the fourth day. We were well rested this time!