SINGAPORE: It’s official. The deltoid workout du jour that is the Viking Thunder-Clap will return for another outing at a major football championship.
Iceland, who wowed us all at Euro 2016, have reached their first ever World Cup at Russia 2018 following a 2-0 win over Kosovo.
There’s a nice bit of incongruity here: One of the world’s tiniest nations will play at the planet’s biggest sporting event in the world’s largest country.
With just over 330,000 people, Iceland will now be the smallest country ever to play at the World Cup – breaking the record held by the 1.3 million-strong Trinidad and Tobago.
Singapore, with around 3.4 million citizens making up its 5.6 million population, once harboured World Cup hopes too.
Goal 2010, which was an ambitious project to reach South Africa, failed in its objective and, by the looks of it, it will be some time before the Lions reach the beautiful game’s pinnacle.
So it’s clear as day: When it comes to football, size doesn’t matter. Here are seven countries (there are more; but let’s not stick it in too deep) smaller than Singapore that have reached the World Cup.
Best known for its geysers, tectonic plates and a lack of forests, Iceland is the World Cup’s newest debutant. Its national sport isn’t even football; that honour goes to handball.
To be fair though, most football fans saw this coming.
Its volcanic-hot performances at Euro 2016 – where it reached the quarter-finals – and its sprinkling of class footballers across European leagues pointed to the fact that the country was in the throes of a golden generation, football-wise.
We'll be looking forward to their happy clappy fans at Russia 2018.
Fun Icelandic fact: Mosquitoes do not exist in Iceland.
TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
Before Iceland’s exploits, cricket-crazy Trinidad and Tobago held the smallest-country-to-have-gone-there-done-that trophy.
They reached Germany 2006 after an impressive qualifying campaign – and did not embarrass themselves on the big-stage, earning a draw and two defeats.
And at 34, football fans finally got to see former Manchester United smiling assassin Dwight Yorke at a major tournament. He did disappoint, unfortunately.
Fun Trinidad and Tobago fact: Trinidad’s Moruga Scorpion Pepper is the world’s hottest.
When Kuwait reached the World Cup in 1982, the tiny Gulf state had a population of under 2 million. With a large part of that number comprising foreign workers, the Kuwaitis really had a small pool to choose from.
What made their achievements even more laudable was the fact that Asia only had one spot at the 24-team tournament.
And Kuwait left one of the more indelible images at that tournament in Spain. A Kuwaiti sheikh made his way down to the field in protest when opponents France scored. Following his intervention, the goal was disallowed.
Fun Kuwait fact: Kuwait is smaller than the US state of New Jersey.
When it made its debut at the 1958 World Cup, Northern Ireland had a population of 1.4 million. That figure now stands at around 1.8 million – making the fact that they reached three World Cups (they also qualified in 1982 and 1986) all the more remarkable.
Sure, this troubled province of the United Kingdom has had no shortage of footballing talent – with the likes of George Best, Gerry Armstrong and Martin O’Neill – but it also had to contend with wretched sectarianism and sub-par local leagues.
Fun Northern Ireland fact: Milk of Magnesia was invented in Belfast.
When you have a mountain range depicted on your national flag, it sort of hints that you might just suck at things that require flat surfaces. Like laying out a flatpack from IKEA, beer pong – and yes, football.
Slovenia was the first region to break away from the former Yugoslavia after a short war. And eleven years later, they found themselves at the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea.
They lost all three games at their debut outing, but notched a highly creditable win, draw and a loss at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
With a population of around 2 million, the alpine nation is still more winter-sports friendly than it is for football, with ice hockey, ski jumping and skiing popular pursuits.
Fun Slovenia fact: Half the country is covered in forest.
OK, so we know that Jamaicans can run. And running is a big part of football. Yet, Jamaica has only been to one World Cup – in 1998.
Still, pretty good we'd say for a country of 2.8 million which prefers cricket and athletics. (They even got to a Winter Olympics before a World Cup.)
Being able to scour the Jamaican diaspora in the UK finally helped the team get to a decent level – but who’s complaining?
After spankings by Croatia (3-1) and Argentina (5-0), the Reggae Boyz (yes, that’s their nickname and that’s how you spell it) edged fellow debutants Japan 2-1 in their final outing.
Fun Jamaica Fact: Rum, which is widely available across the island, is also used for first aid purposes.
Ahh, the luck of the Irish. Ireland had a population of just over 3 million when it reached its first World Cup in 1990, where they got to the quarter-finals without winning a game.
Jack Charlton, who won a World Cup with England, strung a Dad’s Army type team featuring many players with tenuous links to the Emerald Isle. (A good number in the team were actually born in England.)
Ireland went on to qualify for another two World Cups in 1994 and 2002 and are on course for Russia 2018.
So maybe there’s a lesson for Singapore: Diaspora.
So far, we have Luke O’Nien (better be quick, Ireland could get to him first) at Wycombe Wanderers. Another ten more and then some needed for the Lions, maybe?
Fun Ireland Fact: Ireland is the only country in the world that has a musical instrument as its national symbol.