Iceland’s Russian legion ‘coming home’ for World Cup

Iceland defender Ragnar Sigurdsson

Gelendzhik (Russia) (AFP) – For a trio of Russia-based Iceland players, the World Cup means a return to familiar territory and welcome support from fans in their adopted “home” city of Rostov.

Defenders Ragnar Sigurdsson and Sverrir Ingason, and striker Bjorn Sigurdarson, all play for Russian top-flight side FC Rostov, whose stadium hosts the third of Iceland’s group D ties, against Croatia.

“For us the World Cup is a little bit like coming home,” Sigurdsson told AFP before a training session Monday at the team’s Black Sea coast base near Gelendzhik.

Drawn in a tough group alongside Argentina, Nigeria as well as the Croats, tiny Iceland, the smallest country ever to play at a World Cup, face a daunting challenge to match their Euro 2016 fairytale, where they reached the quarter-finals.

Sigurdsson, a 31-year-old defensive lynchpin who scored against England at the Euros, said their experience of Russia will come in handy.

“It will be like us having home advantage for the Croatia game. We know the city and stadium well,” he said.

“Since Iceland made it to the World Cup people have been coming up to us in Rostov saying they will definitely support us,” Ingason said.

Sigurdsson joined Rostov in January this year after previous spells in Russia with Krasnodar and Rubin Kazan that sandwiched a season spent at English Championship side Fulham.

Ingason, 24, a defensive partner for Sigurdsson in Rostov, moved to Russia from Spanish side Granada in 2017, while the striker Sigurdarson, 27, also joined Rostov in January this year.

“It definitely helps that we three are together, we know each other well,” said Sigurdsson. “It’s easier than being alone”.

For Dmitri, a 52-year-old customs official who travelled from the nearby port city of Novorossiysk to catch a glimpse of Iceland’s training session, the Nordic minnows are his second favourite team.

“They are a small nation who have a huge heart,” he said.