After upsetting England to reach the quarter-finals of UEFA EURO 2016 and drawing with Argentina in their opening game, Iceland are plotting more shocks at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, with FC Augsburg striker Alfred Finnbogason leading the charge to turn the streets of Reykjavik into one continuous thunderclap celebration this summer.
How did Finnbogason make his way from the confines of the North Atlantic to the Bundesliga? What does he bring to the Iceland squad at the World Cup? And what kind of a season did he enjoy with Augsburg in the run up to Russia? bundesliga.com is on the case…
Where the Northern Winds blow
Although Finnbogason’s professional football journey began with home side Breidalbik, on the outskirts of the capital Reykjavik, the powerful frontman can boast an early British influence to his game. Between the ages of ten and 11, his father studied in Edinburgh and took his entire clan to Scotland. Hutchinson Vale became the striker’s adoptive home during this period, but his links to the land of Lochs and Glens were not completely severed upon his return to Iceland, as fate would have it.
Watch: Alfred Finnbogason’s roots in Iceland.
After breaking into the Breidalbik first team in 2007, Finnbogason's goals helped the club win a domestic cup in 2009. This qualified them for the first time in their history for the UEFA Europa League, where none other than Scottish side Motherwell awaited on their continental debut. The following season, he topped the league's scoring charts to grant Breidalbik their first-ever title. At age 21, Finnbogason had already achieved all he could at local level and the Northern Winds took him to the European mainland.
Spells with Lokeren in Belgium and Helsingborgs in Sweden preceded a move to the Netherlands in 2012, where he hit the ground running at Heerenveen. Finnbogason finished his debut Eredivisie season as the league’s third top scorer and eventually earned a move to Spain, with Real Sociedad. Things did not really click with the Basque side, however, and, after a loan spell with Olympiakos in Greece, he found a home in a picturesque Bavarian city known as Augsburg.
Watch: Finnbogason’s three first-minute goals for Augsburg.
Finnbogason arrived in the Bundesliga on loan for the second half of the 2015/16 season and he immediately set the league alight, netting seven goals and convincing the Bavarians to make his deal permanent in the process. His second season at the club was marred by an injury that kept him out of action between October and April, but the 2017/18 campaign proved to be his big break in Germany.
Despite being hampered by another relatively long injury lay-off towards the end of the season, Finnbogason still netted 12 goals, including two hat-tricks, to help Augsburg comfortably avoid the fight for relegation once more.
What he brings to the table
During his spell in the Bundesliga, Finnbogason has established himself as a solid all-round striker with a tally of 22 goals. His height of 6’1” is complemented by a muscular frame, which he's exploited to bag seven goals from headers, yet he's fast and agile enough to avoid being typecast as a mere goal poacher. He scores at roughly the same rate with both of his feet (six with the right, five with the left) and is ice-cool from the penalty spot, scoring all four of his spotkicks, including three just last season.
Watch: Finnbogasson’s hat-trick against Cologne in the 2017/18 season.
Prior to the World Cup, Finnbogason had scored 13 goals in 47 caps for Iceland having made his international debut on 21 March 2010 against the Faroe Islands. He was part of the squad that made the UEFA qualifying play-off round for the 2014 World Cup and eventually lost to Croatia and featured sparsely at EURO 2016 before becoming a true mainstay in the squad, scoring in Iceland’s three opening matches of Russia 2018 qualifying.
A valiant Nordic stand
After winning the hearts of fans across the globe with their battling performances and signature thunderclap celebration at EURO 2016, the small island nation made it to Russia with commanding authority by topping their group ahead of more seasoned sides such as Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey. The big question of the summer was whether the blue-red-and-white lightning could strike twice.
Lionel Messi’s Argentina, the reigning runners-up, looked out of reach in terms of quality, but Finnbogason and co. proved they are no one-off miracle story as the Augsburg striker scored in the 1-1 draw. The Nigerian Super Eagles made the most from Iceland's limited experience against African opposition to take convincing 2-0 win and the last Machday ended in a 2-1 loss against Croatia for the Nordic upstarts.
The Round of 16 may have eluded them, but Alfred Finnbogason cn be proud to have planted Iceland's flag on the biggest stage in world football.
Jaime Duque Cevallos