FIFA World Cup 2022™ – News – Gunnarsson: Iceland still have the same hunger

  • Aron Gunnarsson has captained Iceland for the previous eight years
  • He now performs his membership soccer in Qatar with Al Arabi
  • Midfielder talks tattoos, surprise objectives and World Cup hopes with

Bearded, tattooed and brimming with ardour, Aron Gunnarsson is extensively seen because the embodiment of Iceland’s nationwide staff. He was named captain at 23, and a well-known again tattoo – primarily based on the nation’s coat of arms – displays his pleasure in holding that place.

When Iceland beat England to achieve the UEFA EURO 2016 quarter-finals, it was Gunnarsson who led the primary player-fan rendition of the now-legendary ‘Viking Clap’. However from the second Lars Lagerback and Heimir Hallgrimsson started moulding a staff that might write soccer historical past, they’d recognized this all-action midfielder because the rock on which they might construct.

“He’s a shining instance of what we want to stand for,” Hallgrimsson stated in 2018. “What he stands for as a participant… he’s our dwelling id. He’s a shining instance off the pitch of how gamers ought to behave and the way they need to help one another; on the pitch he’s very important for organising the staff. He is aware of the place of each participant, and he’s demanding. And on prime of that, he’s simply an excellent soccer participant.”

Given this glowing tribute, it needs to be no shock that one of many first calls Hallgrimsson made, after leaving Iceland to take charge of Qatari side Al Arabi, was to his former skipper. Gunnarsson, stressed and prepared for a change, took up the supply that adopted. And it was from his new residence in Qatar that the 31-year-old spoke to, discussing Iceland’s heartbreaking EURO qualifying failure, their FIFA World Cup™ hopes and life within the nation that may host the 2022 finals. Aron, be sincere: are you lacking the climate of a British or Icelandic winter?
Aron Gunnarsson:
A bit bit really! [laughs] Being Icelandic, I don’t thoughts a little bit of chilly! But it surely’s very good right here proper now – about 20 levels – so excellent climate actually, and so a lot better than once I arrived again in August. That’s the most popular time of the 12 months, and I used to be gobsmacked. The warmth was insufferable at instances. We’d practice within the night however even then the humidity was simply loopy.

You’ve constructed your profession on being the form of midfielder who covers each blade of grass. Did you should turn out to be extra economical along with your actions, particularly in these early days?
Yeah, there’s no manner of getting round that. All of us get our GPS stats and it’s clear the quantity of operating drops within the second half of video games right here. I might additionally cramp up in direction of the tip of matches in these early days much more than I usually would. So I wanted to adapt. However now the climate’s nice – excellent for soccer – and I can play my typical recreation once more.

Scoring objectives from your personal half isn’t your typical recreation although. Inform us about that one.
[Laughs] That’s positively true. However I’d seen the keeper off his line just a few instances earlier than and thought, ‘Subsequent time I get the ball, I’m going to whack it’. Fortuitously I hit it good and straight. Usually I’m like I’m in golf, hooking or slicing my pictures! [laughs]

You’d been out to Qatar in 2018 as a part of your rehab following a critical knee damage. Was that when the seeds have been sown about taking part in there at some point?
Completely. I got here out right here with my household, and at that stage it was contact and go whether or not I’d make the World Cup. There’s a clinic right here with magnificent amenities and all the best medical doctors and physios, and so they helped get me again in time. I stated to my spouse at that stage, ‘I wouldn’t thoughts dwelling right here, you already know’. The following 12 months, Heimir took the job with Al Arabi and, quickly after that, he picked up the telephone to me. I used to be within the final 12 months of my contract with Cardiff and I knew right away it was one thing I wished to do. I felt like I wanted a change after 11 years within the UK, so Heimir actually didn’t have to do a lot to promote the concept to me.

I used to be studying that you just’ve been impressed with, and pleasantly shocked by, the usual of soccer in Qatar.
Undoubtedly. One of many issues I’d observed earlier than coming right here was that there have been a number of objectives within the league, and it made me suppose that the usual of defending and the tactical facet of the sport wouldn’t be what I used to be used to in Europe. However I feel folks right here have recognised that situation themselves and there’s been an enormous change during the last couple of years, with extra competitors within the league and a greater normal of play – tactical play particularly. That’s essential for the league, and for the Qatari gamers who’ll be concerned within the World Cup.

Aron Gunnarsson of Al Arabi in action during the Emir Cup Final between Al Sadd and Al Arabi at Al Rayyan Stadium on December 18, 2020 in Doha, Qatar.

© Getty Photos

What can folks anticipate from a World Cup in Qatar?
It’s going to be particular. They’ve ready for all the things right here. All of the stadiums are air-conditioned, though the change to have the event in December is totally proper for my part as a result of it wouldn’t be good for the supporters to come back right here in summer time. As it’s, they’ll get a little bit of winter sunshine and be capable to watch soccer in actually excellent situations. And all the things proper now’s geared in direction of making this a improbable World Cup as a result of the Qataris actually do need to do one thing extraordinary and have everybody speaking positively concerning the nation.

You’ll clearly be determined to be concerned in that World Cup however it’s been a troublesome time for Iceland currently. The place do you suppose it went improper for Erik Hamren?
Erik was very unfortunate with accidents. We have been with out a number of key gamers throughout his time in cost. We practically made it to the EURO all the identical, shedding within the final minute within the play-offs. That was very robust to take. However now we’ve got new coaches in place (Arnar Vidarsson having been appointed, with Eidur Gudjohnsen as his assistant) and I feel there are actual potentialities in our World Cup qualifying group. Germany are there and so they’ll be favourites, in fact, however then it’s ourselves, Romania, North Macedonia, Armenia and Liechtenstein. So I’d be hopeful of us doing effectively, and the boys are positively extremely motivated to return to the World Cup. There are additionally fairly quite a few gamers who’re of their 30s now and know this may most likely be our final probability.

How do you replicate on Russia 2018 now, a few years on?
I actually loved it on the time however I didn’t benefit from the build-up. I believed I wasn’t going to make it for a very long time – proper up till the event actually – as a result of I not solely had the problem with my knee, however ankle ligament injury too. However stepping out on to that pitch, at a World Cup, was a particular feeling. Not being match-fit and needing to chase Messi round for 90 minutes wasn’t the simplest comeback, I can inform you! However I used to be so relieved to be concerned and it was improbable to come back up in opposition to one of many best gamers ever.

Are the substances that underpinned Iceland’s success over the previous few years – that starvation and staff spirit – nonetheless there to the identical extent?
I get requested that query rather a lot: ‘Will we nonetheless have the starvation?’ And for me it’s a particular sure. Okay, we made historical past by qualifying for the EURO and the World Cup. However when you’ve skilled these issues it simply provides you a style for doing it many times. It’s the perfect feeling ever to be representing your nation in an enormous event and if experiencing that doesn’t provide the starvation to do it once more, you shouldn’t be taking part in soccer in any respect.

Inform us about that well-known again tattoo. What was the inspiration there?
Enjoying for Iceland means loads to me. I feel there’s one thing particular about representing a small nation; you are feeling such as you’re the little man who at all times has to struggle more durable than the others. With the tattoo, it was after the EURO and I wished to do one thing particular and significant. It was achieved by an Icelandic man who came to visit to Cardiff 4 instances, engaged on my again for 2 days every time he got here. As soon as it was for seven hours straight. Once I launched the concept to him, he stated: ‘Are you certain? As a result of the color [of the flag] will likely be proper in your backbone and also you’re going to be in a number of ache.’ And I can inform you: he wasn’t mendacity! [laughs] But it surely was one thing I actually wished to do, and I’ve no regrets.

You’ve been Iceland captain because you have been 23. How did it really feel to be on condition that duty at such a younger age?
Lars [Lagerback] was constructing a brand new staff on the time and I feel he perhaps wished a younger man to steer the pack. It’s an enormous ask at that age however I suppose he will need to have seen some management qualities in me. I made some errors initially, stated some foolish issues in interviews, however I feel I grew into the position. One factor I do know is that, once I retire, I’ll be so, so proud to say I’ve captained an Iceland staff that made some actual historical past.

Aron Gunnarsson of Iceland applauds fans after the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group D match between Iceland and Croatia at Rostov Arena on June 26, 2018 in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. 

© Getty Photos

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Huynh Nguyen

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