Posted on May 29, 2018

With few days to go until the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, Iceland’s national team skipper, Aron Gunnarsson, has visited Aspetar, Qatar’s orthopaedic and sports medicine hospital, to undergo rehabilitation in preparation for Iceland’s first appearance at the world’s largest sporting spectacle.

With this visit, Gunnarsson joins three other Icelandic players; Alfreð Finnbogason, who is also part of the 2018 World Cup Russia™ squad, Kolbeinn Sigþórsson and Eiður Guðjohnsen, who have successfully completed their treatment programmes at Aspetar in the past few months.

Speaking about the facilities in Aspetar, Gunnarsson said that “When the word spreads about how good [Aspetar] is”, injured Icelandic players come here to get treated for injury or catch up on fitness. He continued: “The facilities [in Aspetar] are, I think, the best in the world. The people here as well; the doctor, physiotherapist and the strength conditioning coach I’ve met have the same mindset about helping me. Everyone I’ve spoken to here has been willing to do absolutely everything for me just so I can make the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™. I think it’s tremendous.”

This qualification makes Iceland the smallest nation to ever qualify for a major tournament, with a population of only 330,000 people. Their 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ draw, however, is not an easy one for this year’s underdogs. Placed in Group D, the team is set to make their 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ debut against footballing giant Argentina, led by the best football player in the world, Lionel Messi. After Argentina, Iceland will face Croatia and Nigeria. Gunnarsson, who also plays as a midfielder for the recently promoted English Premier League (EPL) club, Cardiff City FC, was part of the national team that caused uproar after reaching the quarter-finals at the UEFA Euro 2016.

Not long after, Icelandic players have become plagued with injuries. Gunnarsson himself had to undergo surgery to treat a knee injury sustained during one of his international appearances last September. He’s rehabilitation programme at Aspetar aims to help ready the player and bring him back to full fitness ahead of the tournament next month. In an interview held at Aspetar on the side-lines of the midfielder’s stay in Doha, Gunnarsson spoke about the team’s first 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ participation, Cardiff City F.C.’s recent promotion to the EPL, Aspetar and the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar™ preparation:

Icelandic captain Aron Gunnarsson 2 [].jpg

“Ahead of the UEFA Euro 2016, I think all the Icelandic players were performing consistently. We were injury-free. But we’re going into this year’s World Cup with many injuries so it’s difficult to say [how they’ll perform], but I think the mentality and the structure of the team is always going to be the same, it just depends on how far it’s going to get us. But injuries are part of football and we just have to deal with it. To perform, we must be consistent, and well organised like we were at the Euros, and then hopefully our attacking players will do their magic.” “Everyone in Iceland is excited and optimistic, obviously because we’re an optimistic country. But we know what’s required of us. The group [we drew] is tough. Every goal will matter.”

He continued: “The bonus of being in a tough group like this is that no one expects anything of you, so you come in to the competition without much fear and without pressure, apart from the pressure we put on ourselves. It’s important to get a good start, and it’ll be a tough start against a big footballing nation like Argentina. But all the pressure’s going to be on them, all the eyes are going to be on Messi, so hopefully we’ll manage to cause upset, but it’ll be very tough.” “The good thing about this Iceland team is that it’s been grouped together for a long time. There are a few younger players coming in, but I think the young players know what’s expected. They train in high tempo and their mentality is strong. It’s all about hard-work, because we’re not the most technically gifted players, and definitely not the most technical gifted team, so we have to play to our strengths and that’s what we have to teach the younger players coming into the group.”

Commenting on Cardiff City’s recent promotion back to the EPL, Gunnarsson said that people didn’t really expect anything of Cardiff City FC, but having a squad of talented players and an experienced manager, and as long as you perform consistently, you have always got a chance of promotion, which shows that anything is possible in the EPL. He added: “It’s been a tough season. It was tough because Fulham F.C. kept winning games and went on an unbeaten run for about 20 matches, but we just kept going, and kept being consistent and resilient. All in all, it was a very good season for Cardiff City F.C.”

Gunnarsson hailed the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar™ preparations, commenting: “I think Qatar will do it properly. The stadiums look unbelievable and the people are doing a lot of work to conversate with the fans coming over. It’ll be interesting and I’m looking forward to it. I’ll be around 33-34 years old, hopefully Iceland will qualify for the tournament, because I’ll definitely want to come here again.” Aspetar boasts one of the most advanced medical departments in the region, which is integral to the hospital’s multidisciplinary approach to athlete management. Aspetar’s method focuses on assessment and treatment of injured athletes by implementing personalised injury treatment programmes, including the hamstring protocol.

Utilising an evidence-based model, Aspetar’s experienced practitioners aim to return patients to their pre-injury lifestyle as quickly and safely as possible and has a proven track record of treating regional and international athletes. In 2009, Aspetar became the first hospital in the Middle East to be accredited by the FIFA Medical and Research Centre (F-MARC) as a FIFA Medical Centre of Excellence. Currently, there are only 41 FIFA-accredited medical centres worldwide.

Aspetar has provided medical support to elite local, regional and international athletes across various sports, including players and teams participating in this year’s 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™.