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20 THINGS YOU DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT OUR WORLD CUP GROUP RIVALS.

Byline: By GAVIN BERRY

SCOTLAND take on Iceland in a crucial World Cup qualifier at Hampden next Wednesday as George Burley's men look to take a step closer to South Africa 2010.

We've faced the Icelanders five times before but most Tartan Army punters will still be in the dark about the Nordic nation.

Take Barcelona star Eidur Gudjohnsen out of the equation and nearly every Scot would struggle to mention anything about the country.

And that probably includes fans who made an alcohol-fuelled trip to Reykjavik in September to see Burley's boys claim a 2-1 victory.

But help is at hand for any fan wanting to impress Icelandic visitors because MailSport has come up with 20 interesting facts about our rivals:

1 ICELAND is known as the Land of the Midnight Sun because there are almost 24 hours of daylight during June, July and August. So there's plenty of non-stop fun under the midnight sun when Reykjavik nightlife explodes into a carnival-like atmosphere. Head to Iceland for a two-week holiday in the summer and you might see more sunshine than Scotland packs in over the whole year.

2 ICELANDIC Viking Leif Eriksson was the first European to set foot on the American continent around the year 1000. He arrived 300 years before Christopher Columbus and earned the nickname Leif The Lucky.

3 REYKJAVIK means "smoky bay" and the city was named by Iceland's first settler, Ingolfur Arnarson, after the geo-thermal steam he saw rising from the ground.

4 ICELAND is the world's oldest democracy and also boasts the oldest existing parliament. It is called the Althing and the Vikings established it in the year 930. They founded a constitution based on individual freedom and land ownership and the first meetings were held outdoors on the plains of Pingvellir.

5 MANY Icelanders believe in Huldufolk or "hidden folk" - elves, gnomes, trolls and fairies believed to be living in the lava around the town of Hafnarfjordur.

Wonder if any Dunfermline fans saw them after a few bevvies during their ill-fated UEFA Cup jaunt to the same place back in 2004?

6 IN November 2007 Iceland was named by the UN as "the best country in the world to live in".

Their study was based on life expectancy, education levels and average household income.

Another survey recently found that Icelanders ranked the highest in Europe when it came to expressing general satisfaction with their lives.

Let's hope the Scots can wipe that self-satisfied grin off their faces with a heavy defeat at Hampden.

7 ICELAND has no army, navy or air force. But it does have a Coast Guard to save any punters stupid enough to take a dip in the sea.

8 THE national drink is Brennivin schnapps. The name translates as "burning wine" but it is most commonly known as Black Death.

9 SURPRISINGLY, the most popular sport in Iceland is outdoor swimming. But the Icelanders make sure they go for a dip in geothermally-heated pools.

10 ICELAND has one of the lowest crime rates in the entire world. The policemen don't even carry guns.

11 IN 1980 former president Vigdis Finnbogadottir became the first woman in the world to become a democratically elected head of state. She served four consecutive terms before retiring in 1996.

12 THE Icelandic telephone directory lists people by their first names and includes their occupation.

13 ICELAND is home to Europe's most powerful waterfalls - Gullfoss (The Golden Falls) and Dettifoss (Falling Falls).

14 NEIL ARMSTRONG and his fellow Apollo astronauts trained for their impending moonwalks in Iceland.

The lunar-esque lava formations and craggy terrain were perfect preparation for Armstrong and his men.

15 ICELAND is home to the youngest place on earth - Surtsey in the Westman Islands. It burst from the North Atlantic in a dramatic ocean eruption in 1963 and was named a UNESCO world heritage site just last year.

16 MOUNT Hekla in Iceland is one of the most active volcanoes in the world and was long believed by many to be the entrance to Hell.

That's why people say "Go to Heck" and "What the Heck?".

17 WINTERS in Reykjavik are actually warmer than in New York. Although Iceland borders the Arctic Circle warm waters from the Gulf Stream travel around the island.

And that provides surprisingly mild climates all year round.

18 ICELANDIC is the oldest living language in Europe. Modern Icelanders are still able to read the 1000-year-old sagas written by the Vikings which are on display at the Culture House in Reykjavik.

19 REYKJAVIK is the northernmost capital city in the world.

20 BEER Day is a huge event in Iceland and it has been held every year since March 1st, 1989 when a 75-year-long prohibition of beer was lifted.

CAPTION(S):

Diving in: Folk love to swim; Gates of hell: Mount Hekla
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Mar 29, 2009
Words:805
Previous Article:DANCING ON ICE; WORLD CUP Burley's men out to extend perfect record against Iceland.
Next Article:WIN four tickets for Iceland game and a new top; DIADORA.


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