Isaiah Arnold, 9, of South Portland sports an Icelandic flag on his face as he watches Iceland’s World Cup game Friday at Ri Ra Irish Pub and Restaurant in Portland. His father, Patrick Arnold, is to his right. Ireland lost to Nigeria, 2-0.

The supporters of Iceland’s World Cup soccer team, some 50 people strong and mostly clad in blue, let out a collective groan. Some bent to a crouch, as if struck by a hard blow. Others put their heads in their hands.

But there were no obscenities directed at the television screen or at star midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson when he missed a penalty kick – and a desperately needed goal – in the 83rd minute.

Nigeria’s Ahmed Musa celebrates his second goal during Friday’s 2-0 win over Iceland on Friday in Volgograd, Russia.

“Oh no. We don’t do that,” said Bjorn Jonsson, 54, who rearranged business meetings in Portland so he could join fellow Icelanders and their Portland allies in a packed room Friday at Ri Ra Irish Pub and Restaurant for an 11 a.m. match against Nigeria.

“This is a team. Our team. So just being in the World Cup is a victory for us.”

The Little-Country-that-Could narrative has followed the Icelandic national men’s team ever since they shocked traditional soccer power England, 2-1, in the 2016 European Championships after qualifying for that event for the first time. Iceland followed up that success by earning its first trip to the World Cup, winning its qualifying group.

Jonsson was sticking to that theme after Nigeria beat Iceland, 2-0, on Friday and was already looking ahead to Iceland’s final game in Group D play, against Croatia on Tuesday. Iceland will need a win and some breaks to advance to the round of 16.

“We have come this far. Nobody expected that. And we have beat Croatia before,” Jonsson said.

Jonsson’s son, Karl Bjornsson, 29, wasn’t as sanguine.

“I did not have fun. That was painful,” Bjornsson said.

Call it a generational gap in expectations. For Jonsson, there is still surprise that his tiny country has reached soccer’s premier event. Iceland, with fewer than 350,000 people, is the smallest country ever to play in the World Cup. By comparison, the combined population of Cumberland and York counties is nearly 500,000.

“It would be like USM baseball competing against the Red Sox,” said Pat Arnold of South Portland, who travels to Iceland frequently for business and helped organize the viewing party.

Iceland has risen to No. 22 in the world rankings (Nigeria is 48th, the USA is 25th) and won seven matches with a draw in 10 World Cup qualifiers.

Then it opened World Cup play by tying mighty Argentina, 1-1, thanks in part to goalkeeper/filmmaker Hannes Thor Halldorsson’s penalty kick save against global superstar Lionel Messi.

Instead of hoping for a draw, the Portland-based Iceland fans were quietly expecting victory against Nigeria.

“Now there’s a small pressure on us. The heart beats a little faster now,” said Jon Gudmundsson, 46, who has lived in Portland since March 2017.

Gudmundsson works for Icelandic shipping company Eimskip, the primary customer at Portland’s International Marine Terminal.

Many of the Iceland fans cringing through the near-misses and gradually being reduced to clapping for defensive tackles have a connection to Eimskip, either as employees or because they work with the company. Eimskip’s relationship with Portland has forged a social and cultural bond between the island country and the port city.

“It is so dramatic for a country of their size to be participating and competing so well. It’s just a wonderful story that people from Maine can appreciate. We like being the underdogs,” said John Nass, chairman of the Maine Port Authority. Nass was on his lunch break. “It might be a long lunch.”

As Nass was speaking, the first half was playing out, with Iceland and Nigeria trading chances. At that point, there was nervous but optimistic tension in the crowded pub.

After Nigeria’s Ahmed Musa scored the first of his two goals on a lovely half volley, there was still a level of confidence.

Hildur Einarsson, 33, took on the role of unofficial cheerleader, with enthusiastic shouts of “Afram Island” (Go Iceland). Einarsson, a native of Iceland, has lived in Portland for four years but makes frequent trips back to her homeland.

“We are very proud of our country,” Einarsson said. “We’re small, and if we’re not proud, then who else is supposed to be proud.”

Being “small” strengthens the bond between players and fans, team and country. The Football Association of Iceland announced that 99.6 percent of televisions in the country were tuned to Iceland’s opening match against Argentina.

A man who would only offer his first name, Gunnar, is a ship electrician in charge of the freezers for Eimskip. He was in Portland while a ship was being loaded with containers. Gunnar said he didn’t personally know any of the Iceland players, but team captain Aron Einar Gunnarsson’s wife “used to be the girlfriend of my son.”

Gudmundsson’s boyhood soccer coach is national team goalie coach Gudmundur Hreidarsson.

“There’s always some connection with them. Though we’re not a large country, you know,” Gudmundsson said.

Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: SteveCCraig

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