Around this time just three years ago, the Icelandic national football team was sitting in the 131st spot in the FIFA world rankings, a spot currently occupied by the tiny Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia. Three years on, and Iceland's team has gained one hundred and eight positions and are quite possibly the hottest team not only in Europe but the world of football altogether.
Ranked lower than the top 100 nations in the world made sense. After all, a small Island with a population of well under half a million people stuck in between the Northern Atlantic and Arctic oceans is not supposed to be a football powerhouse. Although the word "powerhouse" may not be the correct term for the ever improving national team, Iceland are sitting comfortably in the 23rd spot in FIFA rankings, looking down on teams such as Ukraine, Ghana, USA, Russia and even France who are currently stuck in the 24th spot, just three places higher than their all-time worse.
The noticeable difference in Iceland's football quality began in the qualifying tournament for last summer's FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Despite being drawn into a somewhat weak group with Switzerland the only clear favorite to finish in first, Iceland did prove for the first time that teams such as Albania, Cyprus and even Slovenia and Norway may not be as much a threat as they used to be for the small nation. After finishing the group in second place behind the Swiss, Iceland went on to play Croatia in a two-leg playoff for a spot in Brazil 2014 and a chance for a spot in what would be the country's first ever major tournament.
Despite their 2-0 aggregate loss to the Croats, Iceland made a mark and missed out on qualification with their head held high. Tottenham (now Swansea) midfielder Gylfi Sigurðsson and Ajax striker Kolbeinn Sigþórsson turned heads and the Icelandic national football team were riding a high on the back of some of the most impressive football ever witnessed from the nation's national squad.
Fast forward 10 months since Iceland's 2-0 second-leg defeat in Croatia and the islanders were at home kicking off the 2016 Euro qualifying campaign against Turkey. Names such as Burak Yılmaz and superstar Arda Turan didn't seem to faze an Iceland team that now may very well be stronger than ever. A 3-0 win over the Turks kicked off a qualifying campaign that up to now had but one glitch; a 2-1 loss to Czech Republic away in Plzeň, a score-line Iceland would go on to defeat the same Czech squad by later on in the group on home soil.
With their 1-0 win over The Netherlands yesterday (their second over the Dutch in this group), Iceland boasts an impressive 6 wins and 1 loss record so far in this qualifying campaign. Their playoff spot is guaranteed at the minimum and they are at the top of group A which (as mentioned above) includes the likes of Turkey, Netherlands, Czech Republic and also Latvia and Kazakhstan which occupy the last two places.
With just three matches left to play, two of which are against the bottom two teams in the group, it would be very hard to imagine Iceland not qualifying directly to France 2016; a major tournament ticket the national team has been waiting to punch since 1958 when they took part in their very first qualifying campaign for the World Cup in Sweden.
Exciting times on the island are exciting times for football all across the world. Iceland's national team players, previously restricted mostly to the domestic league and the nearby Scandinavian neighbor football leagues are now practicing their trade from Swansea City to Major League Soccer's Columbus Crew. Iceland is a nation on the rise in the world of football and may very well currently be the hottest team in the European game.