With the U.S. sidelined for this summer’s World Cup in Russia, American soccer fans have been left scrambling to find a team to support. Tiny Iceland would like you to warm up to its embrace.
With a population of less than 340,000, Iceland is the smallest national ever to quality for world sport’s largest and most prestigious competition. So there’s a lot of room left on the country’s bandwagon.
To help fill those seats, the country’s tourism board has launched a digital campaign to rustle up support. At the center of the campaign is a Facebook page, “Inspired by Iceland,” that opens with a video of the country’s president and first lady playing soccer in the presidential residence.
They then makes an impassioned pitch for your support this summer.
“Join Team Iceland this World Cup and cheer for Iceland with us,” asks First Lady Eliza Reid. “There’s a place for you on our team.”
“Win or lose, there’s always the excitement of being a part of something big. Even when you’re small,” adds President Gudni Thorlacius Johannesson.
Iceland already has plenty of fans based on its surprise performance in the 2016 European championships, where it opened with a draw against eventual champion Portugal. That started a four-game unbeaten streak that included a victory over England, carrying Iceland to the tournament quarterfinals.
By then the team, co-managed by a part-time dentist, had drawn nearly 10% of Iceland’s population to France for the tournament. Last week, that dentist, Heimir Hallgrimsson, predicted thousands of Iceland supporters would travel to Russia for the World Cup too. And even if they don’t, he said, tongue planted firmly in cheek, that he expects the world will be cheering for Iceland anyway.
“Everybody will support Iceland in Russia,” he said before last week’s loss to Mexico in Santa Clara.
“Everybody will be on our side,” Hallgrimsson said with a smile.
But just in case, Iceland’s president and first lady said your support would be welcome when their country opens the World Cup against powerful Argentina.
“Come along for the celebration,” Reid, the Canadian-born first lady, urges on Facebook. “Everyone is welcome, not matter what you’re a fan of, what you believe in or where you live.”
As of Monday evening, more than 18,000 had pledged their allegiance online. But Iceland isn’t the only country looking to scoop up uncommitted U.S. fans to back its team this summer. Mexico and France have also started English-language social media campaigns directed at the American audience.