BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
As Hearts prepare to face minnows FC Infonet this week, Don Cowie certainly won’t be underestimating the danger of an underdog – after watching his pal Aron Gunnarsson stun an entire continent.
They may have exited the competition against a rampant France last night, however Iceland’s exploits will go down as one of the defining stories of Euro 2016, with the island of 330,000 inhabitants reaching the knock-out stages in their first ever major tournament and claiming the scalp of England along the way.
As well as memorable moments on the pitch, their celebrations became equally iconic, with the ‘volcano clap’ – led by skipper Gunnarsson in epic fashion – taking the tournament by storm.
Cowie played alongside Gunnarsson for three years at Cardiff and spoke to his former teammate following the 2-1 triumph against the Three Lions – with the combative midfielder revealing Iceland had felt disrespected in the build-up to the fixture.
Cowie said: “You see Aron’s appearance – the Icelandic guy with the big beard – and you think he will be a some sort of warrior. But he is really down to earth, he gets on with everyone and goes about his business very well in a really humble way.
“He is a great person to have in your side. I’ve spoken to Aron since they beat England. He was over the moon. I think they were hurt by the disrespect they were shown prior to the game and they used that to motivate themselves.
“You have to give them the respect they deserve. His team beat Holland twice in the space of a year and won their qualifying group.
“They are a strong team that has grown up together and it is coming to fruition. It shows what can happen if you stick together as a group.”
He added: “I’m well aware of those long throws – we got promoted to the Premier League on the back of those!”
Hearts are desperate to avoid falling foul of a giant-killing of their own on Wednesday night when they face Infonet – in their first ever continental campaign – in Estonia.
The capital club take a 2-1 lead to Tallinn but were given an almighty fright at Tynecastle last week, with Infonet claiming the lead before Robbie Neilson’s men roared back.
Cowie continued: “I think you need to take a step back and have some realism. We were two weeks into training – they are 20 games into their season. No matter what team you are playing against, that is a challenging situation to deal with and the most important thing is we got a good result.
“There were still positive signs from us and, honestly, I would have been more worried if we played out of our skins but didn’t get the right result.”
Cowie was speaking following Hearts’ 1-1 draw with Cowdenbeath on Saturday, which saw Kris Renton’s opener cancelled out by a Dario Zanatta penalty.
As far as Cowie was concerned, the result was secondary to him finally getting 90 minutes under his belt as he recovers from a persistent calf complaint. Wednesday’s Europa League clash will come too soon for the former Scotland star to make a return to competitive action, however he can see light at the end of the tunnel.
He added: “It has been a tough time for me since I have come to Hearts. I didn’t envision things going the way they have. It has been disappointing.
“I’ve had problem with both of my calves. I’ve been feeling good in training then when it came to games, I wasn’t feeling right. It came to a head at the end of the season and I was pretty low.
“But, fingers crossed, I’m on the road to recovery now. The best is definitely still to come from me, I know that. It’s up to me to show everyone why I came here.”