Iceland Hopes To Qualify For The World Cup As The Smallest Nation

Elvar Fridriksson and Tryggvi Hlinason are on the edge of becoming national heroes in Iceland; yet, both of them and the rest of the Iceland national team are trying their best to maintain their modesty as they compete for a chance to make history.

In the opening game of Window 5 of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 European Qualifiers, Iceland will play home to Georgia. If Iceland can pull off the victory, they will have a two-game advantage over their next-closest Group L competitors with just three games left to play.

That would move Fridriksson, Hlinason, and the rest of the team one step closer to helping Iceland become the smallest nation to qualify for a World Cup. With an official population count of 376,248, Iceland is currently the record holder for the smallest nation to qualify for a World Cup. Montenegro, who competed in the 2019 iteration of the showpiece event, would be passed if Iceland were to achieve this feat.

At that time, there were little more than 620,000 people living in the country of Montenegro.

“Because everyone is aware of what is at stake, we are putting in a lot of effort. If something like this were to happen, it would go down in the record books not only for basketball in this area but also for the sports community in general in Iceland. It would be absolutely unbelievable, “Hlinason, who is third in scoring for Iceland with 14.7 points while also leading the team in rebounds with 10.3 and blocks with 2.8 in six games played during this qualifying season, stated.

The Icelandic national basketball team is striving to achieve the same level of success as the country’s football squad, which in 2018 made Iceland the smallest nation to ever qualify for a FIFA World Cup based on population. That came after Iceland qualified for the UEFA EURO 2016 and notably advanced to the quarterfinals of the tournament.

After qualifying for the FIBA EuroBasket in both 2015 and 2017, the next logical step for Iceland’s basketball program would be to compete in the FIBA Basketball World Cup for the very first time.

However, Iceland did suffer a setback when they were unable to qualify for the FIBA EuroBasket 2022 Qualifiers. As a result, they were need to start their trip to the World Cup by competing in the Pre-Qualifiers.

Fridriksson, a guard for Rytas Vilnus, thinks back to the beginning of Iceland’s quest for the Philippines, Japan, and Indonesia, which actually began with a defeat at the hands of Kosovo by a score of 80-78 in February 2020. He recalls that game.

“When we first started competing in the Pre-Qualifiers, the World Cup seemed like nothing more than a pipe dream. It has been a very long path, and the fact that there is still a chance for us to compete in the World Cup is just incredible “Fridriksson stated. “Anything like this was never really something that crossed our minds. Yes, we teased each other about making it to the World Cup and competing against the best teams in the world, but today that dream is not only a possibility but also has the potential to become a reality. However, we have maintained our modesty and are taking things one game at a time; we are not getting ahead of ourselves.”

In the end, Iceland finished with five wins in the Pre-Qualifiers over Slovakia, Luxembourg, and Kosovo. They then defeated Netherlands twice in the First Round of European Qualifiers, and they also raised some eyebrows by beating Italy at home 107-105 in double overtime earlier this year.

Iceland suffered a humbling 87-57 defeat at the hands of Spain in the first window of the Second Round in August 2022, but they bounced back to beat Ukraine 91-88 in overtime to finish with a 4-2 record in Group L. This put them ahead of their primary competitors for a spot in the World Cup, Georgia, by one game.

According to Hlinason, “Going to the World Cup would really blow all of our expectations out of the water from the beginning of these Qualifiers.” “It is truly a dream come true for a nation such as ours, and the experience is captivating. And I believe that our mindset of always fighting as though we were the underdog was what helped us get there.”

Fridriksson noted that the team is really striving to keep their composure despite the fact that there is a lot riding on the game that will take place at the Laugardalsholl arena in Reykjavik.

“It goes without saying that our team has talked about competing in the World Cup, as it is unquestionably our ultimate objective; nevertheless, we still have a ways to go before we get there. So all we need to do is keep both of our feet firmly planted on the ground and maintain our modesty “the watchman on duty replied.

Because those who achieve greatness on a national scale are remembered for all time, while those who fall just short are quickly forgotten.

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