Having come agonisingly close to reaching the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil only to lose in a two-legged playoff to Croatia, Iceland made it to Euro 2016 where it went on a deep, thrilling run.
It drew with Portugal and Hungary before beating Austria to get out of its group, and claimed the scalp of England en route to the quarter-finals where it was knocked out by host France.
After years of gradual but continuous improvement, the gritty 2-1 win over 1966 England blew away any doubts that it could hold its own on the world stage.
Much of the credit for its success was given to coach Lars Lagerback, but even though he departed after the tournament, the team has continued to play the same brand of quick, rugged football.
Replaced by his assistant Heimir Hallgrimsson, Iceland notched up seven wins, two draws and just a single defeat to top Group I ahead of Croatia. Its best performance in qualifying came in its first home game when it was 2-1 down to Finland, but two stoppage-time goals by Alfred Finnbogason and Ragnar Sigurdsson gave it all three points in a rip-roaring finish.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that there is a population of only just over 300,000 to choose from, the squad lacks depth, but every player who takes the field is very clear about their role in the team. Its recent success is built on unrelenting defensive discipline to win the ball in its own half before counter-attacking at pace.
Led by playmaker Gylfi Sigurdsson, the Icelandic squad may not be household names but, pitted against Argentina, Nigeria and its old foe Croatia, it will have plenty of opportunities to write its name in the World Cup history books this year.
FIFA RANKING: 22 (AS OF JUNE 7)
PREVIOUS TOURNAMENTS: This is the first time Iceland have qualified for the World Cup finals.
FORM GUIDE: After a successful winter tour to Qatar and Indonesia featuring many of its reserve players, Iceland suffered two defeats in spring friendlies against Mexico and Peru. It rounded off its preparations with losses against Peru and Norway and a draw against Ghana.
PROSPECTS: Though its style of play is not very dependent on personnel, Iceland’s chances do very much depend on the fitness of Sigurdsson. Its lack of strength in depth was exposed as the 2016 Euros in France wore on, but with the entire nation behind it, lightning could strike twice for a team famous for its “thunderclap” celebration. It faces Argentina, Croatia and Nigeria in a tough Group D in Russia.
Gylfi Sigurdsson adds extra bit of zest
Iceland stunned the footballing world by knocking England out of Euro 2016 on its way to the quarter-finals but if it is to enjoy similar success at the World Cup finals it will need attacking midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson back at full fitness.
The 28-year-old is the exception in a dogged, disciplined Icelandic team that is built to be more than the sum of its parts, and in the absence of a penalty-box predator, his attacking talents often provide the spark for its goals. However, a knee injury sustained while playing for Everton in March has proved hard to shake off. He has been unable to play for the club since and three months without competitive action is not the best preparation for the World Cup.
With his athletic frame, superb technique and good vision, Sigurdsson adds that extra bit of zest to the counter-attacks that Iceland depend on. He honed his skills at Reading, Swansea and Tottenham Hotspur before joining Everton, and also had a spell with 1899 Hoffenheim in Germany.
With chances likely to be at a premium in Russia and striker Kolbeinn Sigthorsson also suffering a knee injury, what Iceland need most from Sigurdsson is his nose for goal. He has netted 18 goals in 55 games for Iceland which, despite winning its group, scored only 16 goals in its 10 World Cup qualifiers, with Sigurdsson nabbing four of them.
With his dead ball skills also indispensable, the entire island nation will be hoping he is fit to captain the team when it opens its campaign against Argentina on June 16.