England and Iceland Clash at Sold-Out Wembley

Football team

The men’s national football team will face England in a sold-out friendly match at Wembley Stadium tonight. England is expected to field their strongest side while Iceland contends with several key absences. The game marks England’s final preparation before the UEFA Euro finals, while Iceland aims to build momentum for the upcoming Nations League.

A sold-out Wembley stadium

The men’s national football team will face off against England at Wembley Stadium at 6:45 PM tonight. The match will be England’s final friendly match before the 2024 UEFA Euro finals, which will be held in Germany this summer.

As noted by Vísir, England recently defeated Bosnia-Herzegovina 3-0 in a match held at St. James’ Park in Newcastle. Manager Gareth Southgate fielded what could be considered a second-string team for that game. Tonight, however, Southgate is expected to field his strongest side.

Meanwhile, the Icelandic team is dealing with numerous absences: Orri Óskarsson, Willum Þór Willumsson, Hlynur Freyr Karlsson, and Mikael Egill Ellertsson are all out injured. As noted by Vísir, alongside facing players like Kyle Walker, Declan Rice, Jude Bellingham, Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka, and Harry Kane, the Icelandic squad will also contend with a packed Wembley, as the match is sold out.

According to Fotbolti.net, there will be 600 Icelandic supporters at the game, who will attempt to make their presence felt against the 89,400 English fans in attendance.

Will not underestimate Iceland

In an interview with Vísir published this morning, Declan Rice – who plays for Arsenal and the England national team – was asked whether the English team reviewed their infamous loss to Iceland at the 2016 Euros prior to tonight’s match:

“No, I don’t think so,” Declan stated. “That’s done and dusted. But that wasn’t an exemplary game at all. Full credit to Iceland, however; the better team won that game. I remember the match, and it was a big shock, but it just proves that in football, you should never underestimate your opponent. All teams have quality players, and Iceland is no exception.”

Not a “sightseeing tour”

Iceland’s captain Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson was also interviewed yesterday about the upcoming match at Wembley: “It’s a fantastic stadium, and it’s fun to play these kinds of matches. But, of course, we are not here on a sightseeing tour … we’re starting fresh now.”

Jóhann admitted that Iceland’s loss to Ukraine March, which saw their hopes of qualifying for this summer’s Euros shattered, had been disappointing: “But we just need to build on that performance as we head into the Nations League … we know this will be a tough game, but it’s fun, and we should enjoy playing in such great conditions.”

Thor the Walrus Takes a Break in Breiðdalsvík

Though no strangers to welcoming visitors to their picturesque hamlet, the residents of the East Iceland village of Breiðdalsvík received an entirely different kind of tourist on Friday morning. Austurfrétt reports that a walrus decided to sun itself on the village dock all day and rest up after what was, presumably, a very long swim. And, as the BBC later reported, the pooped-out pinniped was actually a celebrity on the sly: Thor the Walrus, who spent his winter traveling around the UK. So far this year, he’s visited the Netherlands and France and may have traveled from as far as the Canadian Arctic to get to Breiðdalsvík.

Walruses generally arrive on Icelandic shores from Greenland, which, depending on their point of departure, is a minimum of 300 km [186 mi] away. They are also known to regularly swim over from the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. Over the last few years, East Iceland has received a handful of walruses in its fjords. One such sighting occurred last year, on June 17, Iceland’s National Day, when a walrus appeared in the town of Reyðarfjörður. The animal had previously been chipped with a GPS device and had swum over from the Faroe Islands. And in September, the walrus known as Wally appeared in Höfn in Southeast Iceland having swum from Cork, Ireland.

Image courtesy of Arnar Snær Sigurjónsson

Fully grown male walruses can weigh around 900 kgs [1984 lbs] and be up to three m [9.8 ft] long. From pictures showing the length of its tusks, local biologists were able to determine that the walrus was either a young male or a female. British Divers Marine Life Rescue, an organization that had encountered the animal in the UK, was eventually able to identify Thor from his markings, specifically “pale patches on the animal’s foreflippers.” They confirmed that Thor is between three and five years old.

Although no walruses live in Iceland today, these animals were likely prevalent in Iceland in the old days, says said Skarpheiðin G. Þórisson, a biologist at the East Iceland Research Centre.. However, they were probably hunted to extinction here by the Vikings, for whom they would have been an important food source.

See Also: The Disappearance of the Icelandic Walrus (September 2019)

It’s important that people take care around these animals when they appear in human habitations. Walruses may be particularly sensitive when tired or disoriented, and are prone to lash out if they feel threatened. These animals may appear to be slow-moving, but on land, they can actually move about as fast as a running person. And they are, of course, capable of inflicting a great deal of damage with their powerful tusks. Residents in the seaside resort of Scarborough in the UK were particularly gracious hosts when Thor was in their midst, opting to cancel the town’s New Year’s fireworks display so as not to disturb their guest.

Image courtesy of Arnar Snær Sigurjónsson

On Friday, police asked people in Breiðdalsvík to keep a minimum of 20 m [65 ft] away from Thor for the animal’s safety, as well as their own. Dockworkers did put frozen herring out for their guest, but it didn’t seem to have any appetite. Many people also wanted to take pictures of the walrus, but they had to do so from a distance.

“We closed the gangway so people didn’t get too close,” said Bjarni Stefán Vilhjálmsson, who works for the local municipality. “We got here around 10 to do some work on the dock and that’s when we noticed him. He’d just gotten here.”

The walrus was still in the village when Bjarni spoke to reporters and he was able to describe the animal’s current mood: “He sort of raises himself up and growls if you get too close, he’s still really disoriented. Hopefully, he’ll just stay calm until he leaves. I don’t expect anything will drive him away. It’s no real bother, there’s obviously enough room for the boats that are here now. It remains to be seen if he’ll leave once the weather gets worse, but as long as it’s sunny and mild, I think he’ll probably hang out all day.”

No Deadline for Decision on Whether Gylfi Þór Sigurðsson Will Be Prosecuted in UK

The Office of the Crown Prosecutor in the UK is currently reviewing evidence against Icelandic footballer Gylfi Þór Sigurðsson and deciding whether it will pursue prosecution against the former Everton midfielder or drop the matter entirely, RÚV reports. Gylfi Þór has been accused of “multiple sexual offenses” and has been subject to a travel ban that has prevented him from leaving the UK since being arrested at his home in Manchester in July 2021.

Responding to an inquiry from RÚV, Nazia Dewji, a spokesperson for the Office of the Crown Prosecutor, said that there was no set deadline by which a decision on the matter must be made. Dewji said that the evidence from the police investigation had been received by the prosecutor at the end of January.

Gylfi Þór was released on bail shortly after his arrest, but has not played in a professional football match since then. He was taken off the active roster for the Premier League team Everton and his contract was not renewed when it ran out last summer. He has not played with the Icelandic Men’s National Team since then either.

In October 2022, Gylfi Þór’s father Sigurður Aðalsteinsson, gave an interview in which he called on the Icelandic government to come to his son’s assistance. The case had been dragged on for far longer than legally reasonable, he argued. “If someone is detained in some [other] country for some hypothetical offense, you can’t just let him languish there for a year, year and a half just endlessly waiting,” he said. At the time, the footballer’s family hoped to change Gylfi Þór’s legal domicile to Iceland so as to make it harder for the British judiciary to extend his travel ban. It was the first time that anyone close to Gylfi Þór had confirmed that any such travel ban existed.

Update April 14, 2023: Charges Dropped Against Footballer Gylfi Þór Sigurðsson

Women’s Euro Stadium Choices ‘Disrespectful to Women’s Football’

Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir fyrirliði landsliðs Íslands í fótbolta

Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir, the captain of Iceland’s national women’s football team, had strong words this week for the stadiums that have been chosen for the women’s European Championship, which will take place in England this summer, ESPN reports. The choice of several low-capacity arenas are “embarrassing,” Sara Björk remarked, and “not the respect we deserve. They haven’t prepared for the fact that we can sell more than 4,000, it is disrespectful to women’s football.”

Sara Björk made the remarks while speaking to the podcast Their Pitch and was particularly referring to the 5,000-seat Manchester City Academy stadium, where two of Iceland’s games will be played. “I am disappointed with the arenas we have been given,” she said. “It is shocking—we play a tournament in England with several large arenas, and we get to play at a training facility that takes around 5,000 spectators.”

A Euro 2022 spokesperson responded to Sara Björk’s critiques saying, “Manchester City Academy is not a training ground. It is the official home stadium of Manchester City Women’s Football Club…We believe that with two of the biggest football stadiums in England [Old Trafford and Wembley], four venues with a capacity of 30,000 or more, two venues over 10,000 and two stadiums under 10,000, the right mix of stadiums has been chosen to provide the tournament with a platform to fulfil its potential.”

FA’s stadium choices ‘felt hugely unambitious then and looks almost ludicrously low-key now,’ says Guardian football writer

In a piece for The Guardian, however, football writer Suzanne Wrack called Sara Björk’s frustrations “understandable,” saying “her remarks highlighted a number of important questions, chiefly among them whether the Football Association was ambitious enough in its choice of venues and whether it has done enough to adapt to the accelerating growth of the game? Arguably, the answer to both questions is no.”

Wrack goes on to point out that while women’s football, and the public’s interest in it, was in a much different place four years ago when England’s Football Association (FA) made its bid to host the tournament, “the signs of potentially rapid growth were already there and were either overlooked, ignored or woefully underestimated.” She continued by saying that “[i]t was, and always has been, clear that major international competitions qualitatively impact the growth of the women’s game.” Preceded then as it was by the launching of the Women’s Super League as a full-time professional league in 2018, the 2019 World Cup, and a broader, stated goal of doubling the fanbase by 2020, the FA’s choice of stadiums “felt hugely unambitious then and looks almost ludicrously low-key now.”

‘They should 100% reconsider’

Responding to the FA’s claim that they’ve chosen “the right mix of stadiums…to provide the tournament with a platform to fulfil its potential,” Sara Björk noted that both of Iceland’s matches at the academy have already sold out, and she believes that these sales, as well as sell-outs across the group phases, speak for themselves.

“But matches will be played in larger arenas that I’m sure will sell out,” she continued. “Women’s football explodes, and you start to get the respect you deserve. It’s getting better—more money is being pumped in now and it’s going in the right direction. But there are still things that need to improve.”

“They should 100% reconsider [changing the stadiums],” Sara Björk concluded. “Because if you look at the reactions and how many people buy tickets and how popular it has become, then you have to reconsider.”

The Women’s Euro 2022 will be held from July 6 – 31; Iceland will play July 10 (vs. Belgium); July 14 (vs Italy); and July 18 (vs France). You can listen to Sara Björk’s full interview with Their Pitch (in English) here.

English Footballers Fined for Breaking Quarantine in Iceland

English national football players Mason Greenwood (18) and Phil Foden (20) have been fined ISK 250,000 ($1,780/€1,510) each for breaking quarantine rules while in Iceland for a match with England’s national men’s team last weekend, Vísir reports. The players have both issued apologies for meeting two Icelandic women in their hotel, a violation of the “working quarantine” regulations visiting athletes are required to follow.

Foden, who has a girlfriend and one-year-old son, has issued an apology on his Twitter page. In the statement, he admitted to breaching COVID-19 protocols, calling it a “poor decision” that “didn’t meet the standards expected of [him].” Foden apologised to team manager Gareth Southgate, as well as staff, supporters, and his family.

Greenwood’s apology, issued via Manchester United, was more concise. “Having now had the chance to reflect on what’s happened, I can only apologise to everyone for the embarrassment I have caused,” it reads. “It was irresponsible of me to break the COVID-19 protocols which are in place to protect players, staff and the public.” Greenwood also apologised to Southgate and promised he would learn from the incident.

Women Express Regret

The two women who met with Greenwood and Foden have both expressed regret over the incident, stating they were not aware the players were in quarantine. Lára Clausen (18), one of the young women, posted a series of videos on her Instagram account last night taking responsibility for recording the videos of the players, which she says were leaked from her private Snapchat account. Lára called the meeting a “huge mistake and complete thoughtlessness” on her part. “I honestly had no idea how famous these boys were. I don’t follow football and never have and had no idea what I was putting on the internet.” Lára stated that the players did not tell the women they were in quarantine.  “If we had known better we would have never gone, knowing they were in quarantine.”

Nadía Sif Líndal, the other local who met with the players, posted several Instagram stories insisting that she did not know the players were in quarantine and did not record the Snapchat videos or leak them to the media. Both girls have faced harassment on social media due to the incident. Politicians Hanna Katrín Friðriksson and Helga Vala Helgadóttir are among several public figures that have denounced the vitriol. “Raise your hand if you’ve never done anything stupid,” Helga Vala wrote in a Facebook post about the incident. “Shouldn’t we give them a bit of a break?”

English Footballers Break Quarantine in Reykjavík

By inviting Icelandic women into their hotel rooms, two English national team members broke quarantine rules in Iceland. Players Mason Greenwood and Phil Foden were in the country with the English men’s national football team to play a match against Iceland this past weekend. Snapchat stories show the two broke “working quarantine” rules that apply to visiting athletes.

Martyn Ziegler of UK paper The Times reports that the two did not travel home with the rest of the squad after the Iceland match. England’s national football team manager Gareth Southgate stated the two players have apologised and said “nothing happened” in the areas the team occupied in the Reykjavík hotel.

Athletes visiting Iceland from abroad for the purpose of matches or competitions are not required to undergo double testing and five-day quarantine that applies to most travellers. They are instead subject to strict “working quarantine” guidelines that prohibit most activities outside of their work.

Greenwood and Foden were not at practice this morning, as they must remain isolated from their team members.

At a COVID-19 briefing in Reykjavík today, Rögnvaldur Ólafsson, Assistant to the Chief Superintendent was asked whether the two players would be fined for the violation. Rögnvaldur stated that Capital Area Police were investigating the incident and the case was nearly closed.

This story will continue to be updated.

WOW Discontinues Flights to Gatwick

WOW air has sold its flight times at Gatwick airport in the UK, RÚV reports. The purchase price of the flight times and their buyer remain confidential at this time.

The sale means that as of March 31, 2019, the discount airline’s UK destinations will be reduced to one – Stansted airport, also in the London area – as it recently also discontinued flights to Edinburgh in early October 2018. Around the same time, flights to four US destinations – San Francisco, St. Louis, Cleveland, and Cincinnati – were eliminated as well. The latter three destinations had only been in service for about five months at the time of their cancellation.

In its announcement, WOW simply chalked up the necessity of cancelling flights to Gatwick  to a streamlining of operations. The airline’s financial woes have been much-reported of late, and led the company to lay off 111 employees at the beginning of December. WOW air is also set to reduce their fleet by almost 50%, from 20 to 11 planes. The company will retain only Airbus A321 and A320 jets, suitable for short- and medium-range flights, and will cut New Delhi and Los Angeles from their itinerary on January 20 and January 14, respectively.

US-based firm Indigo Partners recently invested ISK 9.4 billion ($75.88m/€67.23m) in WOW air, and is set to acquire shares in the company as well. WOW air’s CEO and founder Skúli Mogensen recently explained that going forward, the company’s operational model will be adjusted so as to conform to that of the super-low-fare airlines that Indigo Partners normally works with.

Drone Sightings in England Force Flight Cancellations in Iceland

A handful of flights departing from Iceland were canceled or delayed following the full airport shut down at Gatwick in England, RÚV reports. The shutdown is the result of drone sightings around the Gatwick airfield, in what one airport tweet referred to as “a deliberate attempt to disrupt flights.”

Gatwick was first closed just after 9:00 PM on Wednesday night after two drones were sighted flying over the airfield. The airport reopened just after 3:00 AM on Friday morning, only to close again about 40 minutes later after further drone sightings.

It’s estimated that the shutdown affected 110,000 passengers scheduled to depart from Gatwick on Thursday, as well as a significant number of passengers on flights that were scheduled to arrive from other airports, such as Iceland’s Keflavík airport. Icelandair, for instance, had to cancel a flight that was scheduled to depart on Thursday at 7:45 AM and delayed a later flight that was meant to depart for Gatwick at 3:25 PM. WOW Air and Easy Jet also had to cancel or delay flights.

As of 5:00 PM on Thursday, Gatwick remained closed.