Iceland boss Heimir Hallgrimsson has described the nation as having ‘optimism in the genes’ ahead of Tuesday’s attempt to make the last 16 of the World Cup.
The 51-year-old has also emphasised he is in no doubt that pulling off the feat would rank as the biggest success in Icelandic football history.
Tuesday evening’s concluding round of Group D fixtures sees Iceland, who are at a World Cup finals for the first time, face already-qualified leaders Croatia, while Argentina take on Nigeria.
Iceland boss Heimir Hallgrimsson is optimistic that his side can progress to the last-16
And Iceland need a win to have any chance of progressing – they are third in the group with one point, the same amount as Argentina and two fewer than second-placed Nigeria.
Hallgrimsson’s men held Argentina to a 1-1 draw in their opener before losing 2-0 to Nigeria.
He said at his pre-match press conference, streamed on FIFA’s website, ahead of the Croatia clash in Rostov-on-Don: ‘If it’s the Eurovision Song Contest we always think we’re going to win it.
‘It’s the same here – we think we’re going to win all the games. And even if we lose we think we’re going to win the next one. I think it is in the genes – optimism.’
Iceland midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson (centre) looked in determined mood during training
Aron Gunnarsson (centre) was among the Iceland players involved in training on Monday
When then asked what will happen in Iceland if the team manage to qualify, Hallgrimsson said: ‘Then Icelanders will think we are going to be world champions because they are so optimistic!
‘Just to put the question into context…for nations like Argentina, Portugal, Germany, it would be a kind of, not a disgrace, but at least a shock not to qualify for the final 16.
‘I would say it would be the biggest success in our football history if we qualify for the last 16 in the World Cup.
‘So that’s just to put it into context – how much it would mean to us and how much of an achievement that would be for the players.’
Hallgrimsson guided Iceland to the quarter-finals of Euro 2016, famously defeating England in the last 16 – the significance of which he has played down in terms of potentially helping his players for Tuesday’s match.
Iceland must win to have any chance of getting through to the World Cup knockout stages
Ireland take on Croatia on Tuesday, with their opponents already through to the last-16
Croatia have beaten Nigeria 2-0, then pulled off a stunning 3-0 victory over Argentina.
Their boss Zlatko Dalic has indicated that with qualification secured, he is set to rest players.
And when asked on Monday at his pre-match press conference if he was bothered about complaints from the Argentina camp about not selecting a strongest team, Dalic said: ‘We’ve come here to win and maintain our top spot. We don’t care what other teams are saying.
‘We are minding our own business. What others are commenting is their business. We’ll mind our business and not Nigeria’s or Argentina’s.’
The Iceland squad are put through their paces during their intense training session in Rostov
If they do make it through then it would represent a significant achievement for Iceland
Asked if Luka Modric would play on Tuesday, Dalic said: ‘We will set up our first XI at tomorrow’s meeting. Let me repeat – we’re minding just our own business, not thinking about other things.
‘It’s not a nice thing to say that this is a reserve team. This is the Croatia national squad and I believe that all of my players will play at the same level we did against Nigeria and Argentina. Let’s see what the line-up will be.’
Hallgrimsson said he thought Croatia resting players would be ‘a little bit of a disadvantage for us’.
He said: ‘It’s strange to say it but I think the players who have played in the first two games could be demotivated, thinking about not getting injured or not getting yellow cards.
‘There are no rubbish players in the Croatia squad. It’s motivated players who want to play in the final 16, final eight and semi-final – and that’s their chance.’