Aron Gunnarsson and Heimir Hallgrimsson (Getty Images)
Volgograd – Iceland coach Heimir Hallgrimsson declared his side were still in the race for a place in the World Cup last 16 despite Friday’s 2-0 loss to Nigeria.
Iceland’s fate is no longer in their own hands, however, as Nigeria will join Croatia as qualifiers from Group D if they beat Argentina on Tuesday.
But any other result in that match could see Iceland squeeze through with a victory against familiar opponents Croatia at the same time.
Iceland went through ahead of Croatia in UEFA qualifying to reach Russia while the Eastern Europeans needed a playoff to secure their place.
“It’s a strange fact that we are still in the race,” Hallgrimsson told reporters after the match. “We didn’t think we would go through this World Cup without a loss and losses are always difficult to swallow.
“I have to hail my players, they gave everything, they tried what they could but it was just not our day in so many ways.”
He said he had been impressed with the Luka Modric-inspired side, who are already through from Group D thanks to a stunning 3-0 win over Argentina on Thursday.
“We only need to beat Croatia,” he said with a smile. “Which is possibly easier to say than do.
“We’ve played Croatia four times in four years and we’ve often said we’re like a married couple trying to get divorced but we always meet up again.
“They have had two really, really good performances in the World Cup. The last one was a shining example of how good Croatia is.”
Two stunning second-half goals from Ahmed Musa sunk Iceland, who faded badly after half-time and missed an 82nd minute penalty, which could have given them a lifeline, when Gylfi Sigurddsson blazed over the bar.
Croatia sit pretty with six points at the top of Group D. Nigeria are second on three points while Iceland and Argentina have just one point apiece from their opening 1-1 draw, though Lionel Messi’s side are bottom on goal difference.