Iceland Triumphs Over Israel, Eyes Playoff Finals Against Ukraine

Icelandic fans at the World Cup in Russia in 2018

Head coach Åge Hareide has praised Iceland’s team spirit and character in their 4-1 victory over Israel yesterday. The performance secured the team a spot in the UEFA Euro playoff finals against Ukraine on Tuesday.

Excellent team spirit

Åge Hareide, head coach of the men’s national football team, expressed his delight after Iceland’s 4-1 victory over Israel last night, a win that secured Iceland a spot in the final match of the UEFA Euro finals on Tuesday. Iceland will face off against Ukraine, with the winning team advancing to the UEFA European Championship in Germany next summer.

“I’m very pleased,” Hareide told Vísir yesterday. “I thought the boys did well, and they worked hard. Not everything was perfect, but the effort and talent of the players shone through. Luck plays a part, and you earn your luck.”

As noted by Vísir, Hareide was particularly pleased with the team’s character; Israel took the lead shortly after Orri Steinn Óskarsson squandered a golden opportunity.

“The spirit in the team has been good in training. This is a good group of players who stick together. They didn’t hang their heads but continued to work after Orri’s chance and then the penalty against us. Everything seemed against us, but they turned it around, which was very well done. This is good for the team and the morale in the squad.”

Hareide also praised Albert Guðmundsson, who scored a hat-trick in the match.

“He was superb. I’ve seen all his games with Genoa, where he has been doing very well. I knew he would be very important to us if he could play; that was the question. We’re very happy that he could join us and hope everything goes our way in the next game.”

On a less optimistic note, two players, Arnór Ingvi Traustason and Arnór Sigurðsson, were forced off during yesterday’s match with injuries. Team captain Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson was also sidelined ahead of yesterday’s match against an injury, and it remains uncertain whether these three players will be fit to face  Ukraine on Tuesday.

Captain-Less Iceland Takes on Israel in Euro Play-Off Match

Iceland football team

Iceland’s national football team captain, Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson, is sidelined with a thigh injury and will miss tonight’s UEFA European Championship play-off semi-final against Israel. If Iceland wins tonight’s match, the team will advance to the finals match of the playoffs, facing either Bosnia and Herzegovina or Ukraine, on Tuesday, March 26.

More serious than initially suspected

The Icelandic men’s national football team has suffered a significant setback as captain Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson is injured and will not participate in tonight’s UEFA European Championship playoff semi-final against Israel, RÚV reports.

Jóhann Berg has had limited involvement in the team’s training sessions, and it has now been confirmed that his injury is more serious than initially thought. In a press conference yesterday, Jóhann Berg revealed that he had suffered a thigh injury.

Mikael Egill Ellertsson will wear jersey number 7, usually worn by Jóhann Berg. As noted by RÚV, 23 players have been registered for Iceland’s squad by UEFA today, as opposed to the full 24 selected by coach Åge Hareide for the task, in light of Jóhann Berg’s injury.

Centre-back and vice-captain Sverrir Ingi Ingason is expected to lead the team into this crucial match against Israel tonight. If Iceland wins tonight’s match, the team will advance to the finals match of the playoffs, facing either Bosnia and Herzegovina or Ukraine, on Tuesday, March 26.

As noted on UEFA’s website, “the playoffs are all single-leg knockout matches. If ties are level at the end of normal time they go to extra time and, if required, a penalty shoot-out.” Iceland’s match against Israel tonight will take place at the Szusza Ferenc Stadium in Budapest, as UEFA has deemed it unsafe to host matches in Israel. The match is scheduled to start at 19:45 Icelandic time.

Goalkeepers:
Elías Rafn Ólafsson – CD Mafra – 6 matches
Hákon Rafn Valdimarsson – Brentford – 7 matches
Patrik Sigurður Gunnarsson – Viking FK – 4 matches

Outfielders:
Guðmundur Þórarinsson – OFI Crete – 13 matches
Kolbeinn Birgir Finnsson – Lyngby Boldklub – 9 matches
Daníel Leó Grétarsson – Sonderjyske Fodbold – 15 matches
Sverrir Ingi Ingason – FC Midtjylland – 47 matches, 3 goals
Hjörtur Hermannsson – Pisa SC – 27 matches, 1 goal
Guðlaugur Victor Pálsson – K.A.S. Eupen – 42 matches, 1 goal
Alfons Sampsted – FC Twente – 21 matches
Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson – Burnley – 90 matches, 8 goals (injured)
Ísak Bergmann Jóhannesson – Fortuna Düsseldorf – 24 matches, 3 goals
Arnór Ingvi Traustason – IFK Norrköping – 54 matches, 5 goals
Hákon Arnar Haraldsson – LOSC Lille – 15 matches, 3 goals
Kristian Nökkvi Hlynsson – AFC Ajax – 1 match
Jón Dagur Þorsteinsson – OH Leuven – 33 matches, 4 goals
Mikael Egill Ellertsson – Venezia FC – 14 matches, 1 goal
Mikael Neville Anderson – AGF – 24 matches, 2 goals
Arnór Sigurðsson – Blackburn Rovers – 20 matches, 2 goals
Willum Þór Willumsson – Go Ahead Eagles – 8 matches
Orri Steinn Óskarsson – FC Köbenhavn – 6 matches, 2 goals
Andri Lucas Guðjohnsen – Lyngby Boldklub – 20 matches, 6 goals
Alfreð Finnbogason – K.A.S. Eupen – 73 matches, 18 goals
Albert Guðmundsson – Genoa CFC – 35 matches, 6 goals

Gylfi Sigurðsson Disappointed Over National Team Snub

Footballer

Footballer Gylfi Þór Sigurðsson, recently signed by Valur, has reportedly not been selected for Iceland’s national team for the upcoming playoff against Israel. In an interview with DV yesterday, Gylfi described the decision as “a huge disappointment,” insisting that he is in better physical condition now than in previous selections.

“A huge disappointment”

Yesterday, it was revealed that footballer Gylfi Þór Sigurðsson – recently signed with the Icelandic football team Valur – would not be among those players selected for the national football squad ahead of a crucial playoff match against Israel on March 21. Iceland needs to win two matches in the playoffs to secure a spot in the UEFA Euro 2024 finals in Germany this summer. The squad is expected to be announced today.

Gylfi expressed his feelings about Hareide’s decision in an interview with DV yesterday:

“It’s a huge disappointment. It’s one of the main reasons why I have continued playing. I have always enjoyed myself most with the national team and playing for Iceland … I tried to be ready for these games over the past few months – to no avail; unfortunately, I’m not in the squad,” Gylfi observed, adding that he is in better condition now than last autumn when Hareide selected him.

Gylfi has been struggling with an injury over the past few months.

“I would have trusted myself to do so. Despite minor injuries, I feel I’m in better condition now than against Liechtenstein last autumn. I feel better physically. My legs are stronger, and unlike the last time when I was selected, I have not gone a long time without playing football. I would have more than trusted myself to play with the national team,” Gylfi remarked.

Hera to Represent Iceland in Eurovision

A screenshot from RÚV. Hera Björk during the Söngvakeppnin final, March 2, 2024

Ríkisútvarpið (RÚV), The Icelandic National Broadcasting Service, has decided that singer Hera Björk will represent Iceland with her song Scared of Heights at the Eurovision Song Contest in Malmö in Sweden this May. According to an announcement from RÚV, Hera was the undisputed winner of Söngvakeppnin, Iceland’s preliminary competition.

Only two days ago, RÚV launched an independent inquiry into the voting process of Söngvakeppnin. Several voters reported glitches in RÚV’s voting app. Some who attempted to vote for Hera’s main competitor, Palestinian Bashar Murad, shared screenshots of error messages or indications that their vote had gone to Hera instead. The songwriter for Bashar’s song, Wild West, submitted a written request for an independent inquiry into the error.

Few votes in question

RÚV says that both songs were affected by the voting app glitch and that Hera’s victory was dominant as she received some 3,500 more votes than Bashar. According to the voting app’s developers, only 748 votes were in question. “The votes possibly affected due to this glitch were even fewer than originally thought and it’s clear that this had no impact on the final results,” RÚV’s announcement read. “Hera Björk is the undisputed winner of Söngvakeppnin 2024.”

Saddened by the discourse

Iceland’s participation in Eurovision has been criticised in light of Israel’s ongoing participation in the competition during its military action in Gaza. Bashar’s participation was seen by many as a statement to oppose the war, but he was also subjected to racist comments during the process. Hera’s songwriter, Ásdís María Viðarsdóttir, known professionally as Ásdís, said that she wanted Bashar to represent Iceland and that her conscience didn’t allow her to participate further.

Hera said that she was saddened by the discourse. “Both in terms of how people talked about me and my supposed viewpoints, but even more so about how Bashar was treated,” she said.

Program Director Skarphéðinn Guðmundsson said that RÚV was aware of the discourse surrounding the competition. “We encourage everyone to support Hera and her team,” he said. “She will be a fantastic representative for us.”

72 Palestinian Visa Holders En Route

bjarni benediktsson

Late last night, 72  Palestinian people crossed the border from Gaza to Egypt on request from Icelandic authorities. All of them have Icelandic visas on the basis of family reunification and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs has announced that they will travel to Iceland, Heimildin reports.

Criticism over inaction

The Icelandic government has faced criticism due to the delay in extracting these individuals from Gaza, which has seen military action from the Israeli army for months. Icelandic volunteers have already been able to bring a number of people across the border to safety without help from the authorities.

Last weekend, Israeli authorities approved the list of names submitted by Icelandic authorities, according to a press release from the ministry. Minister for Foreign Affairs Bjarni Benediktsson communicated with his Israeli counterpart Israel Katz last Tuesday on this subject.

A policy exception

“This case has relied on the process speed and position of local authorities and the Icelandic delegation can only operated on the grounds of the legal, diplomatic processes that Israeli and Egyptian authorities have put in place for these cases,” the press release read.

Authorities maintain that they had no duty to step in to support the visa holders, even if they did so in this case. Bjarni added that the government is pushing to reform immigration policy to ensure that exceptions like these don’t put “additional pressure on Icelandic systems”.

Hera Björk Wins Amid Eurovision Controversy

A screenshot from RÚV. Hera Björk during the Söngvakeppnin final, March 2, 2024

Hera Björk has won Iceland’s Söngvakeppnin, but it is still unclear whether she will represent Iceland in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. Hera won Iceland’s pre-Eurovision competition with her song Scared of Heights last Saturday, beating out Palestinian contestant Bashar Murad in the final. Some have called for an independent investigation into the voting process after reports of glitches in national broadcaster RÚV’s voting app.

Iceland falls on bookmakers’ lists

Five acts performed in the televised Söngvakeppnin finals last Saturday evening, with Hera Björk and Bashar Murad voted as the two finalists. Prior to the final, Eurovision bookmakers had considered Bashar as most likely to become Iceland’s Eurovision representative and had placed Iceland in third place on their Eurovision betting odds lists. Since Hera’s win was announced, Iceland has fallen to eleventh place.

Glitches in voting app

Several Söngvakeppnin voters reported glitches in National Broadcaster RÚV’s voting app on Saturday. Some who attempted to vote for Bashar shared screenshots of error messages or indications that their vote had gone to Hera instead. Vodafone Iceland stated that any glitches were not due to a systemic issue on their end. RÚV is looking into the matter, but director of Söngvakeppnin Rúnar Freyr Gíslason has stated that the total number of votes affected by potential glitches were not so great as to influence the final outcome. The composer of Wild West, the song Bashar performed, has called for an independent investigation into the matter.

Icelandic musicians call on RÚV to not participate

There have been calls to boycott Eurovision among the Iceland public this year due to Israel’s participation in the contest. These calls have been echoed within the Icelandic music community as well. Over 550 musicians in Iceland signed a petition calling on RÚV to boycott the competition if Israel is permitted to participate. The signees include a plethora of well-known artists such as Emilíana Torrini, Bríet, Hildur Guðnadóttir, Páll Óskar, and Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir (Of Monsters and Men). The Icelandic Association of Composers and Lyricists also released a statement urging RÚV not to participate in the contest.

RÚV Director Stefán Eiríksson has previously stated that the broadcaster would leave it up to the winning musician of Söngvakeppnin to decide whether or not to participate in Eurovision in Malmö, Sweden this year.

Iceland and Israel Discuss Gaza Visa Holders

bjarni benediktsson

Iceland’s Foreign Minister Bjarni Benediktsson had a phone meeting with his Israeli counterpart Israel Katz yesterday, where the two discussed Icelandic visa holders in Gaza. Some 100 Palestinians in Gaza, mostly children, hold approved Icelandic visas on the basis of family reunification. Bjarni requested assistance in processing the list of visa holders, according to a press release from the Icelandic government.

Government criticised for moving slowly

Iceland’s government has been criticised for moving slowly on extracting Icelandic visa holders from Gaza. An Icelandic lawyer representing one Palestinian family waiting for reunification has submitted a complaint to the Parliamentary Ombudsman asserting that the government is responsible for the individuals on the basis of humanitarian law. In early February, Icelandic authorities sent three representatives to Cairo to look into bringing the visa-holders across the Rafah border, but their efforts have yet to bear fruit. Meanwhile, a group of Icelandic civilian volunteers have already gotten around 25 Icelandic visa holders out of Gaza.

Special examination needed, Foreign Ministry says

“The Icelandic government sent a list of residence permit holders to the authorities in the region in the first half of February,” the government press release states. “In communication with the Israeli government, it has been stated that the list is unique as there are no Icelandic citizens or dual citizens on it, only residence permit holders. The list therefore requires special examination on their part, and has therefore not yet been processed.”

Icelandic government ministers previously stated that Iceland has no obligation to extract Icelandic visa holders from Gaza. Ministers also stated that other Nordic countries were only extracting their own citizens from the region, not visa holders, a statement that proved to be false.

Continue Efforts to Save Icelandic Visa-Holders from Gaza

Rafah_Border_Crossing

Three Icelandic women who have been in Egypt for around a week are continuing their efforts to assist Icelandic visa holders in Gaza across the Rafah border, and eventually home to Iceland. The women helped one Palestinian woman and her three sons across the border three days ago and are now trying to help another woman in Gaza and her three-year-old daughter reach safety. They call on the Icelandic authorities to rescue the roughly 120 people in Gaza who have already been granted Icelandic visas on the basis of family reunification.

“The feeling of seeing the family was indescribable, I don’t know how to put it into words,” Bergþóra Snæbjörnsdóttir, one of the three Icelanders currently in Cairo, told Iceland Review. “Also the feeling of getting the news that they were coming across the border, it was like finally breathing out after not realising you had been holding your breath for a long time.”

Icelandic authorities have not offered assistance

Bergþóra, a writer, is in Cairo along with fellow writer Kristín Eiríksdóttir and media professional María Lilja Þrastardóttir. All three are volunteering their time and say they will continue their efforts until the Icelandic government takes over. Both Iceland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Bjarni Benediktsson and Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir had previously stated that getting Icelandic visa holders out of Gaza was “complicated,” despite other Nordic countries having done so.

“Icelandic authorities have not had any contact with us, they have not offered us any assistance,” Bergþóra stated. “We have been in contact with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour about getting the first family home [to Iceland] and they have been very helpful.” Bergþóra explains that all of the families have been approved to receive UN funding for their cost of travel to Iceland. “The Icelandic state doesn’t have to pay for people returning home from Egypt.”

Impending attack at Rafah border

The situation at the Rafah border is dangerous, with an impending attack announced by Israeli authorities. “Israeli ministers and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have stated that the next target is the Rafah border, where there are currently around 1.8 million people in a very small area, so it’s incredibly dangerous. We want the Icelandic authorities to come get these people right away because Gaza is the most dangerous place in the world right now.”

Fundraising efforts underway

Minister for Foreign Affairs Bjarni Benediktsson has argued that more asylum seekers would be a strain on Iceland’s infrastructure. Bergþóra criticises this argument: “We want the Icelandic authorities to take responsibility and not talk about the country’s infrastructure in the context of a few souls from Gaza, the infrastructure that they have been underfunding themselves, systematically, for decades. Now, suddenly, when we’re talking about saving the lives of a few children from Palestine who are in the middle of a genocide, now suddenly they’re worried about our infrastructure.”

Around 120 people in Gaza hold Icelandic visas on the basis of family reunification. Around 75 of them are children, the rest are mostly women, and a handful are fathers with children in Iceland. Bergþóra stated that those who want to support the group’s rescue efforts can contribute to funding efforts organised by Solaris “and by continuing to speak, scream, fight, and call for the children to be rescued.”

School Children Strike for Palestine

Alþingi parliament of Iceland

Students from capital area elementary schools gathered outside Alþingi, Iceland’s Parliament, on Austurvöllur square today to protest on behalf of Palestine. In a speech delivered by the organisers, the children demanded support from the Icelandic government for the Palestinian people.

Children from the lower secondary school Hagaskóli spearheaded the protest, encouraging students to leave class at 10:30 and assemble. They were inspired from visiting the protest camp on Austurvöllur earlier this year. Most of the Palestinian protesters who camped throughout January have family members who have been granted residence visas in Iceland on the basis of family reunification but are still stuck in Gaza.

Called for a ceasefire

“We’re protesting the genocide in Palestine,” organisers of the school strike said, according to Heimildin. “Authorities! Stop turning away people escaping genocide. Reunited families, like promised. Take a stance on the genocide, push for a ceasefire and a free Palestine in the international sphere. We, Icelandic students, object to Iceland being complicit in genocide.”

The children made five demands to the Icelandic authorities, calling for reunification of Palestinian families who hold Icelandic visas, supporting Palestinian refugees, taking a stance against genocide, meeting with Palestinian protesters, and pushing for ceasefire and peace on the international stage.

Eurovision controversy

“This is a genocide and nothing is being done about it,” Arnaldur Árnason, a student in Tjarnarskóli said, adding that he thought it was strange that Israel was allowed to compete in the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest and that Iceland should pull out in protest. “Russia was not allowed to participate, but Israel is still allowed to compete. It’s disgusting. I don’t understand how this is allowed.”

FTT Urges RÚV to Boycott Eurovision if Israel Competes

Eurovision Söngvakeppnin 2020 Daði Freyr Dimma

The Icelandic Association of Composers and Lyricists (FTT) has urged RÚV not to participate in the 2024 Eurovision unless Israel is excluded. Director of RÚV Stefán Eiríksson has previously stated that RÚV does not plan on withdrawing from the contest.

Shifting the responsibility to RÚV

The board of the Icelandic Association of Composers and Lyricists (FTT) has issued a statement addressed to Stefán Eiríksson, Director of the Icelandic National Broadcaster (RÚV). In its statement, the FTT urges RÚV to withdraw from the 2024 Eurovision Song Contest – unless Israel is denied participation on the same grounds that barred Russia, after its invasion of Ukraine, from competing last year.

“The members of our association are urging us to make our voices heard,” Bragi Valdimar Skúlason, Chairman of the FTT, told RÚV yesterday. Bragi pointed out that the association speaks for songwriters and not for musicians in general.

“According to our reading of the room, people will be very unhappy and may even withdraw personally,” Bragi Valdimar observed. With its statement, the association wants to put the decision into the hands of RÚV as opposed to the artists themselves. “We wanted to shift the responsibility to RÚV, as there is a board meeting today,” Bragi explained yesterday.

Director Stefán Eiríksson has previously confirmed that RÚV would participate in Eurovision, as it has done since 1986.

The statement from the FTT in full:

“The Board of FTT, the Association of Composers and Lyricists, urges RÚV not to participate in the 2024 Eurovision Song Contest unless Israel is denied participation in the contest on the same grounds as Russia in the last competition.

It is our collective duty to take a stand against war and the murder of innocent civilians, including children. We always have a choice not to associate our names with such actions, whether we are individuals or state institutions.

We owe nothing to those nations that exercise excessive force through military power and should not share the stage with them in events that are typically characterised by joy and optimism.

Board of FTT:
Bragi Valdimar Skúlason, Chair
Védís Hervör Árnadóttir, Vice-Chair
Sóley Stefánsdóttir
Ragnheiður Gröndal
Andri Ólafsson
Hallur Ingólfsson
Hildur Kristín Stefánsdóttir”