BEIJING China (Xinhua) --
A Coca Cola advertisement has recently made waves
on Chinese social media, but not because of its scenes or its
catchy rhythms. The reason behind its popularity is the identity
of its director. It’s Hannes Halldorsson, the goalkeeper of the
Icelandic national football team.
into the spotlight after Iceland held Argentina to a 1-1 draw in
their debut in the World Cup. His superb saves, especially his
denial of Argentine superstar Lionel Messi’s penalty, had helped
Iceland earn a point.
After that match,
Halldorsson’s Coca Cola advertisement was reposted more than 10
thousand times on the Chinese social media platform twitter-like
Sina Weibo, with users astounded that a director by trade could
give such an impressive performance on the pitch.
surfaced that the Icelandic national team was comprised of
non-professional players, and that playing football was only
their part-time job.
Gunnar Snorri Gunnarsson clarified this point in an interview
with Xinhua on Wednesday.
“Every one of our
national team is a professional player. We have about 100
professional players in Iceland,” he pointed out.
that in addition to their devotion to football as professionals,
they have acquired other skills to ensure a decent living after
“They are always
ready to go back to normal life. They keep open to a second
career. Because the career of a football player is short, so you
have to prepare for life after that.”
The story of
goalkeeper and director Halldorsson is not a rare case, the
ambassador said. He also shared stories of other professional
players who achieved success in their second career.
after a highlighted football career at Arsenal, Nice and AC
Milan, excelled in import and export trade and later became the
country’s ambassador to France. Another example is the Chairman
of Icelandic Football Association, Gudni Bergsson. He was a
professional footballer in England and studied law there while
players, known as the Strakamir Okkar, or “our boys” in
Icelandic, first surprised the world in the 2016 UEFA European
Championships. Being newcomers to the tournament, Iceland not
only made it to the knockout stage, but also defeated top dogs
England 2-1 to head into the quarterfinals. Although their
journey as dark horses ended in the 5-2 loss to hosts France,
their performance put them on the map of world football.
A decade ago,
Iceland was a mere 131st in the FIFA Rankings. It’s
hard to imagine how a country with less than 350,000 people
managed to shine at a top-level international tournament. The
ambassador gave three reasons for their success.
“Iceland does not
have a very hospitable climate. It’s very difficult to play in
winter. But we have built quite a few indoor football fields so
that people now can also train in the winter time.”
He added that
Iceland now has 179 full size pitches, which means there’s one
for every 1,800 habitants or every 128 registered players.
Importantly, most of these pitches were built near schools.
“Youth work is
exactly the key,” said the Ambassador, “and we have set up a
system so that even the kids, boy or girl, who want to play
football can have a professional coach to help them. At a young
age, you can have professional guidance.”
facilities, professional coaching plus attention to youth
training, the Icelandic national team has written their own
history. Now that they have started their World Cup with an
impressive draw against Argentina, expectations are high for
them to duplicate their 2016 miracle.
But for the
Icelandic people, they are already national heroes for having
made it to Russia.
“They are sure to
get a warm welcome when they come home, no matter what happens.
Because everyone is just so happy that we are, for the first
time, in the World Cup.”
became quite emotional as he recalled the qualification match in
2014 when he himself saw the nation’s World Cup dreams crushed
by Croatia. But just four years later, they have made a strong
“It’s a long time
waiting. There is a big poster at the airport of Iceland saying
‘We have been waiting for the World Cup since 1947’.”