It’s just four years ago that Iceland was on the brink of World Cup qualification that was staged in Brazil. ‘Our Boys’ as the locals call the national male soccer team lost 2-0 to Croatia in a playoff return leg in Zagreb after holding the Croats 0-0 in first-leg in Reykjavik. Iceland and Croatia are now in the same group and are fighting for the single automatic slot to 2018 World Cup in Russia but things seem to be working for Iceland than their direct opponents in the group.

With only a fixture left for each team in the group, Iceland tops the table with 19 points while both Croatia and Ukraine have 17 points.

After Iceland had comprehensively handed Turkey a 3-0 victory away from home, there are only three sides that have a chance of progress in the group. Even if ‘Our Boys’ loses against Kosovo in the final fixture, Iceland is at least guaranteed a playoff spot.

Three teams fighting for the two spots

The three sides that have a mathematical chance of finishing top in the group go into the final match with each side holding its fate within its hand. Only Iceland can hope that the game pitting Croatia and Ukraine ends in a stalemate as the result will see ‘Our Boys’ qualify automatically to the group stages of the 2018 World Cup finals without kicking the ball. Whoever loses in the Croatia/Ukraine game will exit the journey of the 15 available spots for Europe teams.

On papers, Iceland is expected to beat the minnows Kosovo who is taking part in the global competition since attaining their independence a few years ago. The fact that ‘Our Boys’ will be playing in front of its home fans makes it the overwhelming favorite to win the match. Even though Croatia will be playing away from home, they slightly have an edge over the Ukrainians who will be hosting the hotly contested match.

Andriy Shevchenko who at some time during his playing career with AC Milan had won the UEFA Player of the Year in 2004 is the Ukrainian coach who can guide his to the Russia tournament. The Croats have a good goal difference and would pip Ukraine to the third position in an event that the game ends in a draw.

Turkey who was the semi-finalist in the 2002 World Cup that was staged in Korea and Japan can’t qualify for a trip to Russia even if they beat Finland.

The other teams that will be honoring fixtures and only playing to improve their world rankings are Kosovo and Finland.

Iceland is slowly becoming a European giant

It baffles many people how a nation with a population of only 334,252 (According to 2016 statistic) can produce a team that challenges and even beats other European top nations. It’s also a mystery to many soccer lovers to see a nation that doesn’t have any player in the European top clubs perform better than the star-studded nations. In fact, the most rated Icelandic player is Gyfi Sigurdsson who plays at Everton in the Premier League.

The soccer revolution began in 2014 in which only a play-off defeat at the hands of Croatia separated Iceland from making a landmark history of featuring in the first ever World Cup.

Heimir Hallgrimsson side then qualified for the 2016 UEFA Eurocup in which Iceland surprised the continent when overcame top nations like Hungary and Austria to make it into the knock-out stages alongside Portugal in the group. ‘Our Boys’ would then beat the highly rated England to set up a semi-final match against France where Iceland bowed out of the competition with a 5-2 defeat at the hands of the 1998 World Cup winners.

Iceland is just one game away from making a history of making a maiden entry into the World Cup. The side will now brace for the global giants like Brazil, Argentina, and Spain.