Iceland's Kari Arnason tells us about his Irish team-mates and shocking England

Iceland defender speaks to Newstalk's Team 33 ahead of Tuesday's international friendly

BY Raf Diallo 17:31 Tuesday 28 March 2017, 17:31 28 Mar 2017

Iceland's Kari Arnason during the Euro 2016, Group F match at the Stade de France, Paris. Owen Humphreys/PA Archive/PA Images

As fate and the fixture Gods would have it, this international window has pitched Ireland up against the two teams that captured the imagination at Euro 2016.

After Friday night's 0-0 draw against Wales in a World Cup qualifier stalemate, Euro 2016 quarter finalists - and conquerors of England - Iceland are in Dublin for a friendly international on Tuesday night.

Kari Arnason is one of the experienced heads in the Iceland squad, having won more than a half century of caps and also as an integral part of the team that made a surprise run to the Euro 2016 quarter finals.

The 34 year old former Plymouth Argyle, Aberdeen and Rotheram United player could play some part against Ireland at the Aviva and on Sunday, he took the time to chat to us on Newstalk's Team 33.

One of the regular Ireland defenders is very familiar to him - but not from his time playing in England.

"I know pretty much all the [Ireland] players, pretty much just from my time in England. I played against some of them and watched the other ones on TV," he said.

"So they're all familiar faces, although I only know one of them personally from playing with him. That would be Richard Keogh. I played with him in Iceland, a long time ago."  

You can listen to the full interview on the podcast player or stream on iTunes:

There is another Irishman not in the current Boys in Green squad that Arnason is very familiar with.

That's Cavan native Cillian Sheridan who recently made the switch from Omonia in Cyprus to sign for a Polish top flight club.

Arnason signed for Omonia in January, just a month after the Irish striker left for Poland. But the two knew each before from their time in England.

"I actually knew him from before. I knew him playing in Plymouth. He had come on loan from Celtic I think. Terrific lad and I can't say a bad word about him. I think he's come a long way. He's improved a lot as a football and got a good move to Poland," said Arnason.

One thing that Ireland will have to watch out for, particularly where Arnason is involved, is the Icelandic long throw routine.

Iceland's Kari Arnason waves his national flag at the end of the Euro 2016 Group F soccer match between Iceland and Austria at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, France, Wednesday, June 22, 2016. Iceland won 2-1. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

As England and Austria found out to their cost at Euro 2016, Arnason's near post flick ons towards the back post led to crucial goals in those 2-1 wins.

And England's approach to marking Arnason was odd that night in France in the last-16, in a way that also surprised Arnason himself.

"I know how difficult it is to defend a long throw. On top of that, we're quite a physically strong team and we've got height as well, so it is hard to defend. What I was surprised about was that [Wayne] Rooney was actually marking me when they've got loads of players that are a lot taller and stronger than him," he said.

"And I think they just took it lightly. They thought we would just roll over and give up, especially after they scored the first goal."

Arnason explained how comfortable Iceland felt for long portions of the game as they held on to the 2-1 lead on of the lowest points in English national team history. 

Immediately after that match however, Arnason was also quick to dispel an untrue viral story doing the rounds that England's players had been disrespectful to the Icelandic players with one fake tale being that Harry Kane asked the referee if England were out of the tournament if they ended up losing the match: 

Something else that did surprise Arnason and to which he responded in blunt fashion at the time was Cristiano Ronaldo's comments after Iceland had held his Portugal to a 1-1 draw in their group opener.

The Real Madrid star and winning captain at Euro 2016 had been angered by the way Iceland set up, saying, "When they don't try to play and just defend, defend, defend this in my opinion shows a small mentality and they are not going to do anything in the competition."  

Arnason famously responded forcefully at the time, by stating, "He’s a fantastic footballer but he’s not a gracious human being", among other lines.

"Obviously my response to that question showed my shock that he actually said that," Arnason told me.

"And it's just quite embarrassing really for him.

With a dose of dry humour, Arnason added, "Unfortunately, he went on to win the tournament so I have to live with that.

"But yeah, I think that's quite poor by a player with such a high standard and plays for arguably the best club team in the world and is one of the two best players - to say that is quite ridiculous."  


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