Sigthorsson aiming to save COVID-hit year with derby win, Euro qualification

Philip O'Connor
·3-min read
FILE PHOTO: Euro 2020 Qualifier - Group H - Turkey v Iceland

Sigthorsson aiming to save COVID-hit year with derby win, Euro qualification

FILE PHOTO: Euro 2020 Qualifier - Group H - Turkey v Iceland

By Philip O'Connor

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Iceland striker Kolbeinn Sigthorsson is hoping to end a year hit by injury and COVID-19 on a high by winning the Stockholm derby with his club AIK and then helping his country qualify for the European Championships.

Football has been turned on its head by the coronavirus pandemic, but Sigthorsson has suffered more than most. He contracted the virus before the Swedish season started and has since struggled with other injuries.

However, the 30-year-old told Reuters he is in top form before the most crucial week of his sporting year.

"I had it (COVID-19) back in the beginning of the pre-season. I was sick, lost all sense of taste and smell and it disrupted my whole pre-season. It took a while for me to start to feel right again," he said, adding that his senses of taste and smell hadn't completely returned yet, several months later.

"It's particularly hard to get into match fitness and stay fit by forcing it to make minutes without having any pre-season build up, and that got me some extra injuries on top of it all. I'm feeling fit now and ready to make a good impression for the rest of season."

The striker, who joined AIK in March 2019 after ending his contract with French club FC Nantes, is hoping that Sunday's derby against 2019 Swedish champions Djurgarden will be the first step.

"We have had a good run of results recently and the derby is still always a very big game for us, even if no fans are going to be there," he explained.

"Djurgarden are a good team and it's going to be tough game, but the way we have been playing in the last few months gives us good feeling heading into the game."

With the postponement of the Euros until 2021 and Sigthorsson's contract at AIK running until December of next year, he is aware that he might never get to play in front of a full house of his club's passionate fans again.

"Personally, I'm not sure there's going to be many fans allowed in 2021 and I have thought about that possibility," he said. "Obviously it's different not to have them (the AIK fans) supporting us in the stands... but we know what they are expecting from us."

After the derby he will join up with his Iceland team mates ahead of their Euro 2020 playoff with Hungary in Budapest on Thursday.

Sigthorsson was part of the Iceland side that reached their first major finals at Euro 2016. But the former AZ Alkmaar and Ajax Amsterdam player said expectations have changed for the tiny nation of around 330,000 inhabitants.

"Yes I think they do have higher expectations (than before 2016). I've heard that there's going to be a crowd there (in Budapest), around 20,000 people, but we will come well-prepared," he said.

(Reporting by Philip O'Connor; Editing by Christian Radnedge)