Iceland, FIFA World Cup, Christmas Beer, Northern Lights, Traveling, Europe, Driving in Iceland
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Icelandic Culture
30 November 2022

Iceland at the FIFA World Cup: Smallest Nation in History

Iceland playing against Argentina at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
Lionel Messi and Iceland´s national team at the 2019 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

The 2022 FIFA world Cup is now in full swing as nations from all over the world compete in Qatar to become world champions in football.

In 2018 Iceland made it´s debut at the FIFA World Cup when the team qualified for the tournament in Russia. Becoming the smallest nation in history to compete in the final stage.

Unfortunately, Iceland failed to qualify again and is therefore not among the nations playing in Qatar.

Despite that, the Icelandic nation has a football fever and follows the tournament closely. Families and friends gather to watch matches with enthusiasm. Many are replacing Iceland with their favorite team to follow. 

The smallest nation to reach the finals

Iceland is by miles the smallest nation to compete in the FIFA World Cup. Surpassing Trinidad and Tobago as the smallest FIFA World Cup qualifier by more than a million people.

This is a record which Icelanders are extremely proud of and will probably never be broken. At least not anytime soon.

Not only did Iceland qualify for the 2018 World Cup. The team went straight to the tournament by winning their qualifying group. Leaving behind strong football nations like Croatia, Ukraine, and Turkey.

Icelandic team and fans do the viking clap after quailfying to the World Cup.
The Viking Clap at Iceland´s national stadium after qualifying to the World Cup.

Iceland at the 2018 FIFA World Cup

Iceland was clearly an underdog in a very strong group at the World Cup in Russia. Going against Argentina, the world cup runner ups, Nigeria, and Croatia, the new world cup runner ups.

Despite being the smallest nation ever to enter the FIFA world Cup expectations were high in Iceland. Iceland made it quite easily to Russia and only two years had passed since the miracle in Nice, where Iceland made it to the Euro Finals semi-finals after beating England in the first knockout round.

Thousands of Icelanders followed the team to Russia. Spirits were high among both the team and supporters. Performing the famous Viking clap like never before at every match.

The first match was against Argentina. The game ended with a draw where both teams scored one goal each. The highlight of the match was however when Iceland's goalkeeper, Hannes Halldórsson, saved a penalty from Lionel Messi.

Iceland lost the next two games against Nigeria and Croatia and did advance forward from the group and into the knockout stage.

Getting to the world cup was a major achievement not only for Iceland but on a global scale. Despite not winning a match the Icelandic team did well and the nation's heroes walked out with their heads held high.

Hannes Halldórsson Iceland´s goalkeeper after saving a penalty from Messi.
Hannes Halldórsson Iceland´s goalkeeper after saving a penalty from Messi.

Why is football so popular in Iceland?

Football is the most popular sport in the world and in Iceland. Recent achievements for both the men's and women's national teams have only increased the nation's well established interest in the sport.

Iceland is most certainly not the best place to practice football. With our long and often harsh winter. Therefore, Icelandic football is primarily played during the short summer.


However, over the past decades indoor football halls with full sized pitches and artificial grass have increased the quality of the sport significantly.

That and high standards coaching at many local clubs has produced more quality players which often go at a young age to play abroad.  

Interestingly, the nation isn’t very invested in Icelandic football. There is much more interest in English football. Almost every person in Iceland has a favorite team in the English premier league. The most popular clubs being Liverpool and Manchester United.

Icelandic supporter at the World Cup.
Football is the most popular sport in Iceland.

Follow the FIFA World Cup in Iceland

Iceland might not be competing at the World Cup in Qatar but there is much excitement for the tournament. Every match is broadcast by the Icelandic national broadcast agency, RUV, and the people of Iceland are watching.

If you´re not going to Qatar and want to follow the World Cup, we recommend visiting Iceland. Here you can see every game at local pubs and get the feeling of true Icelandic football culture.

The game times are very convenient for watching. First match starting at 10:00 and the last at 19:00. So, you can watch football throughout the entire day, from morning to evening.

It is a great opportunity to travel in Iceland and stop at various towns to watch the world's biggest sporting event in a local company and in great spirit.

Christmas beer at a pub in Iceland.
Christmas beer, or Jólabjór, at a pub in Reykjavik.

Icelandic Christmas beer and football

The World Cup is however not the only fun thing going on currently in Iceland. The Icelandic Christmas beers are also available.

Christmas beers are available for a very limited time. From the middle of November and throughout December.

Christmas beers are a fun and popular tradition in Iceland. There are hundreds of different types to try, and each brewer has its own unique taste.

Some are extremely creative. Mixing beer with other Christmas related flavors, such as gingerbread beer, apple and cinnamon, chocolate, and even green peas.


We of course recommend embracing these winter traditions and trying as many as you can. It will certainly light up your days during the dark winter and even warm you up as well.

So, if you like having a beer while watching top class football, we recommend Iceland. Mixing the world cup with Icelandic Christmas beer could just be the best thing you experience this winter.

The Northern Lights above the DC plane wreck at Sólheimasandur Black sand beach in Iceland..
Northern Lights over the crash site at Sólheimasandur Black sand beach.

See the Northern lights in Iceland

Although drinking Christmas beer and watching the World Cup is a lot of fun, it is far from being the only thing you can do in Iceland this winter.

Remember, this is Iceland, and it is winter. Therefore, it is also the best season to witness the amazing Northern lights!

December is one the best times to see the auroras as the day is short and the nights are long. With plenty of darkness and cold weather. All you need is a clear sky, and the Northern Lights will be dancing above you.


The Northern Lights are often visible from Reykjavik but it is best to go out of population areas to see them. Once you are clear from the light pollution you will get a much better view and see the auroras move across the night sky in all colors. It truly is the most incredible lightshow in nature!

The best way to go hunting for the northern lights is of course by having your own rental car. Giving you the chance to be on your own time and go wherever you see fit.   

Over the winter months it is better to have a 4x4/AWD, especially if you want to go out of town. So, if you´re traveling in Iceland at this time and looking for the best view of the Northern lights we recommend a SUV.

A Dacia Duster or Toyota Rav4 would for example be ideal for renting a car in Iceland in winter.


If you want to experience something unique this winter, visit Iceland. Whether it is for celebrating with the smallest nation in the history of the FIFA World Cup, trying our special Christmas beers or seeing the Northern lights, it is all here and will leave no one disappointed.

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