SAINT-DENIS, FR — Former Gonzaga men’s soccer player Kari Arnason, a member of the Iceland National Team in UEFA Euro 2016, helped his nation advance to the Round of 16 on last Wednesday with a 2-1 last-second win over Austria. That was only a stepping stone to Monday’s wild scenes as Iceland shocked England and the world with a 2-1 win that knocked the Three Lions out of the competition and pushed them forward to a showdown with host country France.
Gonzaga’s Icelandic ties run much deeper than Arnason with 21-year head coach Einar Thorarinsson hailing from the country as well as defender David Sigurdsson, who wrapped up his career in a Bulldog uniform last fall.
Iceland, with a population of 330,000, is the smallest country in the tournament, but has seen an incredible amount of support from fans. “It’s like having your family at the game,” Arnason told the media of the team’s 10,000 supporters. “I know probably 50 percent of our crowd, or recognize them. Not probably, but most definitely [Iceland’s biggest result]. It’s amazing to be a part of this team; the camaraderie and the togetherness of this team is unbelievable and I wish this could be a club team to be honest. I think that most of the boys would want that. We just enjoy our time together and are absolutely buzzing with this result.”
Arnason was convinced by Bjornsson to play for the Zags in 2002. Arnason led the team in points that year with three goals and one assist, earning himself West Coast Conference honorable mention honors. He credited his success to the emphasis on technical skills while he played in the Icelandic First Division.
“Technique is really stressed in Iceland,” Arnason said in this article from over a decade ago. “We also understand the game better because we watch it more on television and it is much more a part of our culture. Americans though, are in much better shape and can run forever. So there are differences, but for the most part it is the same game.”
(Portions from GoZags.com)