‘Sheriff beat Real Madrid - maybe Breidablik will too!’ - The Icelandic minnows aiming to upset PSG & Real in the Women's Champions League

Breidablik, Real Madrid badge, PSG BadgeBreidablik, Goal

For most people, a regular day at work does not involve watching the football team you play for draw Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid in the Champions League group stages.

But when Hildur Antonsdottir went into the office last month, days after her goal had set Icelandic side Breidablik on their way to the group stages of Europe’s premier club competition, that is exactly what she did.

“When the picture came out with all these big clubs and then we saw Breidablik, I just got goosebumps,” Antonsdottir tells Goal. “Like, wow. That's amazing.”

On Wednesday evening, PSG will be their visitors as they set their sights on navigating a group that also contains Real Madrid and Ukrainian outfit Kharkiv.

A part-time team, the task Breidablik faces is made tougher by the fact their domestic season ended on Friday night – when they beat Throttur Reykjavik 4-0 in the Icelandic Cup final.

The club started its pre-season for the 2021 season in October 2020, and will now play the entire group stage in its off-season, supplementing a lack of regular season fixtures in between its European adventure with games against the boys’ team.

But this is not a normal part-time team. Training five times a week in a fantastic environment that Iceland women's manager, Thorsteinn Halldorsson, describes as “one of the best in Iceland”, there are massive professional elements to the team.

The attitude the club as a whole has towards its women’s team helps, too.

Breidablik Women 2021
Breidablik

“The members who are in control, they have the same things for the men's team and the women's team in every field except for the pay,” Antonsdottir explains. “They really think about us and do everything for us.”

Ulfar Hinriksson, Breidablik’s head of elite development, first joined the club in 1995. Asked if he remembers when the club first began to work towards that sort of equality, he simply does not.

“It's just normal,” he tells Goal. “It's more that the people who run the club and the board see it as a natural thing.

“But I think in the last 10 years it has been more structural. For example, three years ago, one of the youth lads was playing with a ball in the locker room and broke the TV, so we had to get a new TV, so we bought two TVs. There was no discussion about it. If there's a TV in the men's locker room, we had a TV in the women's locker room.”

That structure applies to everything, and is perhaps most impressive in its youth set-up, which is crucial for a club that is used to losing its best talent to teams from abroad.

In the last 12 months alone, players have left for Bayern Munich, Eintracht Frankfurt, Wolfsburg and the Houston Dash.

Hildur Antonsdottir quote PS 4:5
Breidablik/Goal

There are over 500 girls playing for Breidablik’s youth teams, and they have a satellite team that plays in the second division with an average age of around 17 years old.

There is huge emphasis on these young players coming through and playing for the first team – as well as an important consideration of not putting too much pressure on young shoulders.

That is all particularly beneficial for the national team too, which continues to defy the odds, qualifying for the last four editions of the Women’s Euros. Considering it is representing a country with a population of less than 400,000, that is remarkable.

The youth system in general is something which Halldorsson, head coach of Breidablik for five years before moving on to the national team, believes plays a huge part in Iceland’s continued success on the biggest stage.

“[It] is quite different from most other countries because everybody can go and play football,” he explains to Goal. “We don't have this academy system. You're not picked out when you're 10 years old and you have to stop or go to some other worse team. You can always be in your own team until you're at least 19.

“The system has high quality coaches. Every coach has to have [their] UEFA A or UEFA B [licence] to coach, even though you're coaching Under-12s. I think that's a part of it.

“Coaches are on payroll and it's just not the parents or somebody like that who coaches U8s or U10s. It is coaches who have degrees in coaching and that's their job.”

Iceland Women 2021
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The success of both senior national teams “has an effect” on these young players too, as will Breidablik’s appearance in these UWCL group stages, Halldorsson believes.

Antonsdottir has already noticed the hype growing in the country. “[People in Iceland] are following this very much and everyone knows [about] it,” the midfielder explains.

“I was just walking around downtown and the most unbelievable people that I know were like, 'Oh, you're playing against these teams'. I was like, 'Do you even watch football?'. Everyone knows! Whether they are fans of football or not.

“A lot of my friends went to the [qualifying] game against Osijek. People who aren't often coming to the games, they went to this game and are probably going to go to all the other games.”

Hinriksson, who also works with the Football Association of Iceland alongside his role at Breidablik, has already seen first-hand what impact this can have, too.

“It will help the national team in 10 years' time because then we will see players play who have [had] role models [in] the Champions League. This has happened before,” he explains.

Ulfar Hinriksson quote PS 4:5
Breidablik/Goal

“[In] 2012, I selected four players [for the U17s] from three different clubs, and when I started to communicate with them, they came all from the same village of 800 people in the south of Iceland. It's incredible. They were all in the same class. I did not know it because they were playing in three different clubs.

“What was probably the biggest factor for them was that an U17 national women's tournament was played - two matches were played in that town. Who were the ball girls? You guessed it.

“They stood with the ball at eight, nine years old, seeing these girls, big stars, playing. They say, 'Okay, I want to be a football player'. I expect the Champions League to have similar effect on Breidablik players and just all Icelandic players.”

As for the impact that Breidablik could have on the Champions League? They have experience of playing PSG before, losing 7-1 over two legs in the last 16 back in 2019.

“I thought we were better at the second game because they play much faster than us.” Antonsdottir remembers. “We get six games [in the new group stages] so we can get a taste and get used to the level that they're playing at, instead of getting two games. We have more opportunities to get better.”

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Halldorsson believes there is a “good chance” against Ukraine’s representatives, Kharkiv, as Breidablik aims to secure the first-ever Champions League group stage win for an Icelandic team.

As for Real Madrid? “Football is so lovely that you never know what's going to happen,” Hinriksson says.

“We saw Sheriff beating Real Madrid [in the men’s Champions League]. Maybe Breidablik will beat Real Madrid. You never know. We're going to give it our best shot.”