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Iceland maintain World Cup hopes with late Hordur Magnusson winner

Tuesday 13th June 2017
Iceland continue to defy the form book in international football and they owe their latest victory in World Cup qualification to an unlikely hero playing in the EFL Championship.  Hordur Magnusson did not really capture many headlines during the last Championship campaign when he featured in 28 matches as a defender for Bristol City following his summer transfer from Juventus. He never appeared for the ‘Old Lady' in Serie A action as he was loaned to Spezia and Cesena during his time with the Serie A champions, but he did earn some plaudits when scoring a goal at the weekend for his native country. His 90th-minute goal for Iceland in their 1-0 home win against leaders Croatia has ensured that UEFA World Cup Qualifying Group I is arguably the most closely contested of all the groups with just two points separating the top four teams.

After just two shots had been registered on target throughout the previous 89 minutes during the match in Reykjavik on Sunday evening, Iceland was awarded a very late corner with Magnusson joining his attack-minded colleagues for the set-piece. The Icelandic defender had claimed a second-half equaliser on the opening day of the 2016-17 Championship campaign when Wigan was beaten 2-1 at Ashton Gate, but despite failing to register another league goal during the season, Magnusson did net the only goal when the Republic of Ireland lost 1-0 in a Dublin friendly international earlier this year. Yet his late strike in this weekend's qualifying game owed much to good fortune.

Attempting a header from that corner, the ball hit the shoulder of Hordur Magnusson before looping over Croatian ‘keeper Lovre Kalinic and into the net. It had appeared that the visitors had settled for a point despite dominating most the possession, with Mario Mandzukic substituted just a minute earlier, but that late goal ensured that Iceland drew level with Croatia on 13 points at the top of the group with just four games remaining.
Since qualifying for their first major tournament when surprising many people including the England team during their enterprising Euro 2016 campaign, Iceland is now aiming to participate in next year's Russian World Cup, and they have lost just once in six group games when beaten 2-0 by Croatia in Zagreb.

Currently, just two points separate Croatia and Iceland from both Turkey and Ukraine in Group I, with Finland and Kosovo well adrift of the other teams having collected just one point apiece. With that late Sunday evening goal ensuring that Iceland maintained their 100% home sequence in this group, they will now be hopeful of claiming a further six points in Reykjavik when hosting Ukraine and Kosovo during the autumn while also aiming to avoid defeat when travelling to Finland and Turkey.

Although it is worth noting that they lost 1-0 in Turkey when the two teams met in a Euro 2016 qualifying match back in October 2015, Iceland had already secured their berth in the French tournament prior to the match, and who would bet against Heimir Hallgrimsson's team remaining unbeaten in their final four group contests and perhaps claiming at least a top two placing in Group I.

Iceland has already proved they can overcome more illustrious opponents by relying upon the resolute team spirit instilled into the international squad, and the 2018 World Cup in Russia is likely to be enhanced by the prospect of their first ever finals appearance.
John Welsh
I am a freelance sports writer specialising in football covering Premier League, EFL and English non-leagues plus top leagues in France, Germany and Italy. I have written for Inside Futbol, Football Weekends plus football previews for Hong Kong Jockey Club, and I’m also the author of book First Touch, a novel covering the exploitation of young African footballers and their experiences in Europe.

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