The Iceman Cometh – Part 1 | @JackMcInroy

It’s a big welcome back to Jack McInroy, who is here to have another go at World Cup 98. It’s Iceland this time and whilst Jamaica already had qualification sewn up, Iceland have a lot to do…

16th July 1997. Day One of CM 97/98. A blank slate. Everyone on 0 games played 0 points. Your rivals might have better players and more money, but your fate in your own hands. 

Not so with World Cup qualification. We come in two thirds of the way into the qualifying campaign for the 98 World Cup. A point separates England and Italy in group 2. One will qualify automatically, the other will head to a playoff. Spain have already qualified. Wales and Northern Ireland are already out of it. 

Iceland were genuine minnows back then, but the game’s Noric bias makes them an appealing team to take charge of. One look at the group 8 table is enough to convince anyone that the first chance of tournament football is 3 years away with the European Championship. 

They’re are fifth place in a group of six, having collected 3 points from 6 games and scored just one goal. Eire and Lithuania are 7 points ahead, and Macedonia are 10. The difference in goal difference is a whopping 16 goals. Forget Graham Taylor and England; this is an impossible job. 

Or is it? I get out a pen and paper and open the fixture list to see if this is mathematically impossible or just unlikely, and discover it’s the latter. 

It goes without saying that I need to get 12 points from those final 4 games. If Romania, who have a 100% record so far, can beat Eire and Macedonia, and Eire v Lithuania (home and away) end in draws, and Lithuania v Macedonia also ends in a draw, then it’ll come down to goal difference. Confused? Don’t be. We’ll take it one game at time. 

I’m sure we all have a bit of internal conflict in regard to resetting the game without saving when a result goes against us. I won’t reset it to improve my own results, but I will need to to get the outcomes I need in the other games. 

So there’s a slither of hope. With nearly half the squad called Gudjonsen, Gylfason or Gunlaughsson, the biggest challenge might be remembering who’s who! (It won’t be. The biggest challenge is qualifying for the World cup starting off 10 points adrift.) 

The first match is a Tuesday night game away game against Lichtenstein. It’s the only match of the day, so we can play and not worry about what’s happening elsewhere, and we’ve got a chance to turn our goal difference around. 

We win 7-0. Both Arnor Gudjohnsens get on the scoresheet. 

We have the following match day off, and I see the challenge ahead of me. I had to run the game a dozen times to get to Eire 1 Lithuania 1. It’s a result that the game generated without any interference for me, so it’s legitimate and I won’t hear otherwise. Romania see off Macedonia with a 5-0 win, which is exactly what we need. And they qualify as group winners with three games to spare. 

It’s Ireland next. They take an early lead, but a Gary Kelly red card reduces them to ten and Sigurdsson and Gudjonsson get the goals that get us the points. 

Elsewhere, Romania scrape a win in Lichtenstein (a game that doesn’t affect us, although it is good to see Romania out of form ahead of our match). Crucially, Lithuania v Macedonia finishes 0-0. 

The trip to Romania is the big one. I don’t know if it’s compacence on their part, or if we’re just a damn good team, but we go there and beat them on their own turf  in front of 56,478 fans. Genk’s Thordur Gudjonsson and Brann’s Agust Gylfason, my flying left wingback, get the goals. 

It’s been a hell of a turnaround already, but the table still makes for hideous reading. We go into the final game needing Romania to win away in Ireland and Lithuania to get at least a draw in Macedonia. We’ve got Lichtenstein again. Depending on how results go, we either need to make up three goals over Macedonia or 13 over Eire. 

With the latter eventuality in mind, I go nuclear with the formation. 2-3-1-2-2 becomes 2-2-1-3-2, with the famously flexible Arnor Gudjohnsen (Eidur’s dad) moving up the pitch. 

We win 7-1, with the aforementioned Arnor Gudjohnsson grabbing four. A late Andri Marteinsson own goal the only negative. 

But it ends up being meaningless, as Ireland beat Romania and Macedonia beat Lithuania. There’s no way I’m waiting four and a half years for a crack at the World Cup, so in the words of Steven Gerrard, We Go Again! 

8-0. Arnor Gudjohnsen (the other one) gets 5. But Romania and Lithuania let us down. We go again. 

And again. 

And again. 

And again and again and again and again and again. 

I played the match over and over again until 1.30am trying to get Iceland out of group 8. We annihilated Liechtenstein every time, scoring as many as 9 goals, with at least one of the Arnor Gudjohnsens getting a hat trick. But the other results would not go our way. Eire, with everything to play for, would always beat or draw with already-qualified Romania. Roy Keane scoring a hat trick in one version, while Georghe Hagi never got off the bench. 

And then finally, after one of our least emphatic victories…

I land on the results page to find that it’s happened. It’s finally happened. Iceland 4 Lichtenstein 0, Ireland 1 Romania 2, Macedonia 0 Lithuania 3. 

Build a statue of Florian Prunea in Reykavik. Make 20th October Edgaras Jankauskas day. Give Jack McInroy the Order of the Falcon. 

There’s no return to the home page after this, so as soon as I click ‘done’, the play-off draw will be made. If I get Holland, Portugal or England, there’s no going back. 

The balls come out in our favour. It’s Iceland v Switzerland. And while the World Cup will be deprived of either England or Holland, I’m buzzing. 

If we can rise from the depths of Group 8, we can turn over a load of watchmaking, gold-hoarding yodellers, can’t we? 

At this point it’s 2am, time for me to go to bed. But not before one look at the final table. 

Beautiful. Might get a nice print done. Frame it. Or a line of t-shirts. We’re not there yet, but whatever happens after this is icing on the cake. 

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