Reykjavik wasn’t the only place Icelanders were celebrating their soccer team’s historic victory over England on Monday in the European Championships. They were partying 3,683 miles away at Waxy O’Connor’s Irish Pub in Fort Lauderdale.
Icelanders in South Florida? Absolutely. In fact, there is an official Icelandic Viking Association of Miami (IVAM), which includes 60 members from the tri-county area. They have gathered for all of Iceland’s Euro 2016 matches so far and are planning another watch party for Sunday’s quarterfinal against France.
There is much to celebrate, as this nation of 330,000 people makes its magical run through the prestigious European tournament.
Iceland tied Hungary and beat Austria, and then came the biggest win of all — a 2-1 shocker over England, a nation of 52 million and home to the English Premier League. Iceland has skyrocketed 109 spots in the FIFA rankings the past three years, which is remarkable considering their co-head coach Heimir Hallgrimsson is a village dentist and the country has just 21,500 registered soccer players — fewer than the state of Rhode Island.
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“It has been 24 hours of pure euphoria for Icelanders all over the world,” said Marizelda Eggertsson, who along with husband Matthias, runs IVAM. “For such a small country, it is amazing what that team is achieving. We all feel very united during these past few weeks. No matter what happens Sunday, I feel we already won.”
Other than recent soccer watch parties, the South Florida Icelanders get together every June 17 for Independence Day, in the winter for Thorrablot — a traditional feast of pickled meats and fish dating to the Viking days, and on Oct. 9 for Leif Erikson Day (during Columbus Day weekend) to honor the Norse explorer who led the first Europeans believed to have set foot in North America.
“There aren’t too many of us, but we are very proud of our country and waving our big flags even more this week,” said Matthias Eggertson, who moved 25 years ago from Iceland to Fort Lauderdale. “Nobody thought we could beat England, and we did, so anything is possible.”
▪ Strikers: The Fort Lauderdale Strikers will try to topple a second Major League Soccer team Wednesday when they play at Orlando City SC in the U.S. Open Cup’s Round of 16. The Strikers, who play in the second-tier NASL, are coming off a penalty shootout victory on the road against D.C. United.
Fort Lauderdale is one of two NASL teams still alive in the tournament, which includes teams from all levels of American soccer. Both of the Strikers’ U.S. Open Cup victories required a penalty shootout. They won 4-3 on PKs against D.C. and 2-0 against the Richmond Kickers in the previous round. Goalkeeper Diego Restrepo was a standout in both matches.
The Strikers finished in sixth place (4-3-3) in the NASL spring season. Orlando is in sixth place in the MLS Eastern Conference.
In other news, the Strikers re-signed Miami native Bryan Arquez, who was playing for Miami FC. Arquez, 27, was a member of the Strikers’ 2011 team that reached the NASL Championship Series. The midfielder was a first-round pick of D.C. United in 2007 and played for German Bundesliga club Hertha Berlin in 2008.