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World Football: Iceland Having Big Impact on World Cup Qualifying

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World Football: Iceland Having Big Impact on World Cup Qualifying
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To most of the world, the country of Iceland is little more than an exotic curiosity.  "It's that island in the middle of nowhere in the freezing North Atlantic with a bunch of volcanoes and viking stuff, but like not very many people" is the basic gist of what most people think of Iceland.

As one of the most isolated nations on the planet with a population of only about 320,000, Iceland doesn't tend to occupy a very prominent spot in world affairs.

In World Cup qualifying right now, however, Iceland is making quite the impact.

While the nation has long been formidable when it comes to handball, football has never been their strong suite.

Iceland's national men's football team has never before qualified for the World Cup. After a 1-1 tie against Norway to secure second place in their UEFA qualifying group, they are tantalizingly close.

All that stands in the way of Iceland and a trip to Brazil next year is a two-leg playoff that will occur in November with one of the other nations that also finished second in their respective group in UEFA qualifying.  Which team that is has yet to be determined.

Regardless of who Iceland draws, the team has a very good chance at making history by becoming the country with the smallest population to ever qualify for a World Cup.  Considering that they are a part of the most competitive and deepest footballing region in the world currently, UEFA, the fact that they stand on the cusp of history is that much more impressive. 

In group play, Iceland registered five wins, two draws and three losses. They had 17 goals for and 15 against for a plus-two differential.

The squad is led by Tottenham midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson, who has been one of the most prolific players in world cup qualifiers so far.  Sigurdsson leads his squad in both goals and assists, finding the back of the net six times so far while assisting on three others.

Whoever draws Iceland will have to formulate a strategy to neutralize Sigurdsson if they hope to advance to Brazil.  No squad has been able to do so as of yet though.

Another challenge facing Iceland's next opponent is the fact that they will have to play in Iceland's national stadium, the Laugardalsvollur, in Reykjavik in November, when the weather could very well be harsher than anything the visiting squad has ever experienced.

Barring an unexpectedly harsh draw, Iceland has a very good shot at making history by punching their tickets to Brazil.

The run of the country's national team to the playoff stage of qualifiers isn't the only impact Iceland is having on World Cup qualifying either.

In all the madness that engulfed the final day of CONCACAF qualifiers, the goal that sealed the US win over Panama and resulted in Mexico backing into the playoff against New Zealand was scored by Aron Johansson.  The striker for Dutch side AZ Alkmaar is a citizen of both Iceland and the US, previously playing for Iceland's under-21 national team before deciding to permanently play for the US men's national team.

Between Iceland's clinching of a playoff spot for a World Cup and and an Icelandic-American scoring the goal that sealed the results of CONCACAF qualifying, it's safe to say that never before has the small island nation had as much of an impact on world football as on October 15, 2013.

In the context of football currently, Iceland is far from a mere curiosity and is instead a contender to be reckoned with.

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