Gylfi Sigurdsson says Iceland’s last-16 clash with England at Euro 2016 “couldn’t be more appropriate for us”.
The Swansea ace has been impressed if not surprised by England man and former Tottenham team-mate Harry Kane’s rise and is hoping Iceland’s clash with England goes the same way as their duels on the golf course.
The smallest country to ever play at the European Championship on Wednesday enjoyed their greatest night, overcoming Austria 2-1 thanks to Arnor Ingvi Traustason’s last-gasp winner at the Stade de France.
It was a remarkable end that propelled the country of just 330,000 people through to the Euro 2016 knockout rounds, setting up an intriguing encounter against England in Nice on Monday.
Sigurdsson is the only Icelandic player currently plying their trade in the Premier League and will come up against some familiar faces, having played alongside Kyle Walker, Danny Rose and Kane at Tottenham.
The latter became a star man for club and country after Sigurdsson returned to Swansea in 2014, but that came as a little surprise to the midfielder given his mentality, work ethic and talent.
“He was very focused on what he wanted,” Sigurdsson said. “He’s a humble guy, very down to earth and really likes his football.
“I think that’s what got him though in the end. Of course he didn’t get his chance until a few years ago.
“But he hit the ground running and scored many goals in his first full season, and more in the second. He is a fantastic guy.
“It is hard to judge if a young player is going to become that big when they get their chance, but he’s done incredibly well.”
Sigurdsson and Kane used to practise shooting together after training and became good friends, regularly playing golf.
When asked who was better on the green, Sigurdsson said: “Me. He might say him but he would be lying for you.”
The 26-year-old is hoping he comes out on top again at the Stade de Nice on Monday, ahead of which he expects texts to flow back and forth with his former team-mates.
Sigurdsson says the game “couldn’t be more appropriate for us” but knows better than anyone what task lies in wait.
“We have no pressure on us, that’s the main thing,” Sigurdsson said. “If you look at England, if they were to lose to us there will he headlines back in England.
“We are just here to enjoy the tournament and the last 16. It’s an amazing feeling and we just want to keep going.
“There are not many weaknesses. They have a very good team and have got through a tough group, without playing their best football, but that just shows how good they are.
“Their best is probably yet to come. We will have to defend for long periods against them, but we have shown before that we are capable of it.
“But we want to keep the ball a little bit more, make a good start and save some energy.”
Sigurdsson does not think Iceland will get swept away with the occasion – especially having got positive results against Holland, Czech
Republic and Turkey in qualifying and drawing with Portugal in the group stage – and believes that the neutrals will be cheering them on.
“We are aware that we are probably the second team everyone supports in the tournament,” Sigurdsson said.
“We are a small nation that nobody expects anything of so we want to keep those people happy and go a little bit further in the tournament.
“We are the same size as Coventry. Is it Leicester? We are still underdogs.”