Faroe Islands: The Greatest Footballing Nation You’ve Never Heard Of

Picture this: it’s September 12, 1990. You’re an Austrian fan travelling to Landskrona, Sweden, to see your favorite nation take on the lowly minnows that are the Faroe Islands. It’s the small archipelago’s first ever international game, and they don’t even have a FIFA approved pitch! Easy win, you think to yourself.

We have this in the bag. 60 minutes in, things go downhill. Faroese striker Torkil Nielsen (who’s a salesman by day) makes his way by three Austrian defenders and slots it past the Austrian keeper. You panic. How the hell have we conceded against them? The Austrians can’t break down the Faroese defense, and the game ends 1-0 to the Faroe Islands. It’s euphoria for the Faroese fans. They’ve taken down one of the best teams in Europe in their first ever UEFA game on a pitch that isn’t even theirs. The team immediately become national heroes. This might be one of the biggest international upsets ever.

However, it seemed like a fluke 20 years later. By 2010, good results had only come against teams like Malta and Liechtenstein. Most of the Faroese talent had been coming from Faroese teams like B36 Tórshavn and Vikingur Gøta. The national team was regularly thrashed, their most recent worst result up to 2010 being a 8-1 trashing by Yugoslavia in 1996. But, the 2010s brought a beacon of light to the Faroe Islands and their footballing talents. Players became good enough to get picked up by foreign academies, and by 2012, some Faroese players had played in the academies for Aberdeen (Rogvi Hólm, Hallur Hansson, Gilli Rólantsson Sørensen), Newcastle United (Jóan Símun Edmundsson), Brøndby (René Joensen), FC København (Brandur Hendriksson Olsen), Odense BK (Viljormur Davidsen), and Silkeborg (Ari Móhr Jonsson). They even had a player with Premier League experience, as Gunnar Nielsen turned out for Blackburn Rovers and, surprisingly, Manchester City.

2014 marked a turn in the fortunes for the Faroe Islands national teams. Players had been getting critical exposure to different leagues, and players like Hallur Hansson and Jóan Símun Edmundsson offered youth to go with the veteran leadership of Christian Holst and Froði Benjaminsen. This is when we got to see two of the best games the Faroe Islands have ever played. The team had been playing well in their qualifying group for Euro 2016, only losing 1-0 to Hungary and holding Northern Ireland to a 2-0 win. In November of 2014, the Faroese players shocked Greece, with Edmundsson scoring the only goal of the game in the 61st minute. This game led to Claudio Ranieri losing his job as manager of the Greece national team, so Leicester fans, you have the Faroe Islands to thank. After a 1-0 loss to Romania, the team did it again. Hallur Hansson scored an early goal and Hendriksson (then 19) doubled the lead. Sokratis Papastathopoulos scored a late goal, but it didn’t matter. The Faroe Islands had beaten the mighty Greece twice. In terms of FIFA rankings, this was the biggest upset in UEFA history (apart from Luxembourg 0 France 0), and the fact that they did it twice is even more shocking. The team wouldn’t get anymore points, but those wins brought attention from around the world to this small group of islands.

Their biggest accomplishment to date was finishing 4th in their qualifying group for the 2018 World Cup. The Faroe Islands were in Group B with Portugal, Switzerland, Hungary, Latvia, and Andorra. They finished above Latvia and Andorra, and had a memorable draw with Hungary. Edmundsson and Sørensen scored, along with Rogvi Baldvinsson (formerly of Bristol Rovers) and Sonni Nattestad (currently of Molde, although he’s out on loan at Horsens).

The future looks bright for the Faroe Islands, and they have promising names like Gulak Jacobsen (a 16 year old left winger at Sonderjyske), Teit Jacobsen (a 20 year old right mid also at Sonderjyske), Andrias Edmundsson (a 17 year old centreback at Sunderland and Jóan’s brother), Magnus Jacobsen (a 17 year old holding midfielder at Paços de Ferreira), Lukas Giessing, Hanus Sörensen (both of them are at Midjtylland) and Jákup Thomsen (another player at Midjtylland, he’s a 20 year old centre forward on loan at FH in Iceland).  Watch out for the Faroe Islands, because they’re probably the best football nation you’ve never heard of.

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