Gudmundsson: Iceland not afraid of Messi

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The PSV forward has explained his national team's success and thinks they can upset yet more big names at the 2018 World Cup

Iceland's first game in a major tournament saw them hold Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal to a 0-0 draw at Euro 2016, and they will be hoping for a similar result on Saturday when they face Lionel Messi's Argentina .

Ronaldo slammed Iceland's 'small mentality' after the match in France but they went on to reach the quarter finals, famously defeating Roy Hodgson's England in the knockout stages.

Their population of 334,252 makes Iceland the smallest country ever to qualify for a World Cup, but they have been springing surprises for almost half a decade.

Even coming up against the iconic Messi, perhaps facing his last chance to taste international glory on the grandest stage of them all, does not faze PSV's Albert Gudmundsson, the youngest player in Iceland's squad, and he believes that he and his team-mates have the ability to successfully nullify the Barcelona star, having taken a keen interest in the Catalan side.

Indeed, the La Liga giants used to have Eidur Gudjohnsen, arguably the greatest Icelandic player of all time, on their books.

"Of course, I am happy to be part of this," he told Goal. "It hadn’t been easy for us. Our first ever game in the Euros for our national team was against Cristiano Ronaldo. The first game ever for us in the World Cup is now against Messi. So yeah, it has something to do with our attitude and how we go into the games.

"We know we don’t have the same names but we go into them with eleven against eleven. We work our asses off for each other and then most of the time we get some results back for it.

"I liked watching Barcelona. It played a role that Gudjohnson played there but I also liked to watch Messi, a lot. It was Messi and then the whole Barcelona team. If one stands out then it is Messi. I love the way he plays and we are going to play against him.

"I should know about how he is going to move over the pitch as I have watched him since he was a teenager. I think maybe afterwards you could think like that [about the excitement of facing Messi] but during the game that’s not what you think about and it is eleven opponents and your ten team-mates.

"You just try to get all three points and a minimum of one point, do your best and then after maybe you can feel what you have achieved then. I see it as teamwork. If we look at when Messi has the ball we have one defender on him and then another one close to them. It is going to be hard to take the ball off him.

"You obviously may look at going two versus one with him when he’s on the ball. If we look at the games that Chelsea won against Barcelona, like the semi-finals, Chelsea defended really well. Playing 4-4-2, good defending, looking to keep a clean sheet then they only needed one chance to win the game."

The PSV forward had trials at Arsenal and Liverpool, but chose to go to the Netherlands in search of more game time.

Cristiano Ronaldo vs Iceland

The Arsenal supporter counts Thierry Henry as one of his heroes, but, despite his criticism of Iceland, he retains an admiration for Ronaldo, whom he believes is Messi's equal.

"It is hard to compare these players. They are different and I am a huge fan of Ronaldo’s too. I love Ronaldo’s work rate and attitude," he added. "Many people say he is arrogant but I think it is just that winning mentality that he has. For Messi, I love how easily he plays football. Everything looks so easy for him and I love his skills."

Gudmundsson has a family that has played a huge role in the history of the sport in his home country.

His great grandfather, also called Albert Gudmundsson, played for both Arsenal and AC Milan. He was the first ever professional Icelandic footballer and the second ever foreign player to line up for the Gunners.

His father and mother both played for Iceland, while his grandfather Ingi Bjorn Albertsson, is the second all-time top scorer in the nordic nation's first division with 126 goals, and he is determined to carve out his own path, admitting that he dreams of playing in Spain or England.

"Ever since I was young, I always dreamed of playing in La Liga or the Premier League. So yes, I would love to go there and play for one of the top clubs there," he continued. "I want to keep on the road we are going on at Iceland, we want to qualify for as many Euros and World Cups as we can.

Albert Gudmundsson quote GFX

"I think that it is a lot of small things that add up to one big thing [for Iceland]. For example, guys from bigger countries may have better footballers, from better teams who are playing in better leagues. At Iceland, we are fewer and most of us are really good close friends. In many national teams maybe you don’t know the other guys names.

"Everybody knows everybody. We are really good friends. We are ready to jump in front of trains for each other. We are going to aim to get out of our group. Our goal is to get to the next round. I think it doesn’t matter who we play against, we have always got a chance. At the Euros, we also played both England and Portugal.

"We played good teams and we got one or three points in every game. I think the World Cup will be tough for us and not easy. Just like the Euros weren’t easy but I think we can get the results in every game that we play. It doesn’t matter if we play Denmark or Brazil. We keep the same work rate and same discipline.

"That’s why we can get points. We have good football players but what makes us great is how we work for each other."

Iceland invested heavily in the sport at the turn of the century, using all weather pitches and large indoor football halls to combat the cold temperatures. Their domestic league remains semi-professional, but the country has 5,000 Uefa B License coaches, who help stars on their path to clubs around Europe.

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One such beneficiary has been Gylfi Sigurdsson, who is Iceland's current star turn. Indeed, the midfielder has enjoyed an excellent career in England, playing for Tottenham and Everton, though injury concerns have plagued his preparations for the tournament.

Nevertheless, Gudmundsson believes the 28-year-old could be a difference maker in Russia.

"He is special. People underestimate him, because he is the best player in our team with his freekicks, passes, corners and shooting ability. They are next level but also take a look at his stats, how much does he run in every game? It is rare that you see your best player also working the hardest in a team. That’s why he contributes so much for us."

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