Iceland looks to Euro 2024 bolstered by Gudmundsson after investigation

Mon, Mar 25, 2024
Soccer News (AP)

Iceland looks to Euro 2024 bolstered by Gudmundsson after investigation

Albert Gudmundsson has become key to Iceland's ambition in the European Championship after he could not be picked last year during a criminal investigation.

Iceland plays Ukraine on Tuesday with a place at Euro 2024 at stake in a qualifying playoff final earned by Gudmundsson's hat trick in a 4-1 win over Israel last week.

Gudmundsson missed six games through November in Iceland's qualifying group because the national soccer federation enforced disciplinary rules that excluded him after a woman alleged he sexually assaulted her.

Prosecutors in Iceland recently closed their investigation, and the 26-year-old Genoa forward - the fourth generation of his family to play for the national team - was cleared for selection again.

"We were lacking goals earlier in qualification last year and now we got Albert Gudmundsson back," Iceland coach Åge Hareide said after the Israel win last Thursday, "and he showed that he's a class player."

The federation said on Monday it followed its internal rules and allowed Gudmundsson to return.

He denied the allegations and has not spoken about the case while with the national team.

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Iceland had one of the few woman presidents in world soccer, former national team player Vanda Sigurgeirsdottir, last year when Gudmundsson's case emerged. She was elected in 2021 after previous leaders resigned amid criticism of how they handled similar allegations that implicated men's national team players.

Those cases took the shine off the Nordic island of about 375,000 people being a feelgood story in global soccer - a stunning quarterfinalist at Euro 2016 in France, then the smallest nation ever to play at a men's World Cup, opening in 2018 with a 1-1 draw against Lionel Messi's Argentina.

Gudmundsson was too young for Iceland's tournament debut in 2016, then got just a few minutes of playing time as substitute at the World Cup in Russia.

Now he shapes as the biggest challenge for Ukraine in their playoff final in neutral Wroclaw, Poland.

Gudmundsson showed a full array of scoring skills against Israel: A curling free kick to level the game before halftime; beating the goalkeeper one on one after dribbling through the heart of the defense; a predatory pounce on a loose ball after a save.

After 10 goals in Serie A this season with mid-table Genoa, Gudmundsson's standout game has fueled more speculation he will soon move to a bigger club. Genoa resisted Fiorentina's offers in January.

Italian champion Inter Milan is reportedly also interested in a player whose great-grandfather, also called Albert Gudmundsson, played for AC Milan in the 1940s.

The family is soccer royalty in Iceland and Gudmundsson's father Gudmundur Benediktsson played for the national team before becoming a commentator on television.

Better known as "Gummi Ben," his was the enthusiastic voice on broadcasts from France eight years ago that made headlines and late night talk shows worldwide.

Father and son have one more game to go toward working together in Germany this summer, when Iceland would play in a group against Romania, Slovakia and Belgium.

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer

GRAHAM DUNBAR Dunbar is an Associated Press sports news reporter in Geneva, Switzerland. He focuses on the governing bodies, institutions and politics of international sports. twitter mailto "
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