Tuesday, 28 June 2016

England vs Iceland


All of the talk prior to tonight's match up with Iceland has surrounded speculation on Roy Hodgson's team selection following a dominating but ultimately toothless display against Slovakia. Speculation has persisted that Adam Lallana was either injured or would be dropped, which would see the return of Harry Kane to the starting lineup. England needed goals. It really was as simple as that. The front line of Sturridge, Kane and Sterling had been the favoured prediction from most of the press, then an hour before the game, their foresight was confirmed.

The England line up looked attacking and Hodgson's men adopted an aggressive formation from the start, seemingly with a view to putting the Iceland team very much 'in their place'.

90 minutes later, Roy Hodgson and his backroom team have resigned. England's reputation is in tatters. A 2-1 loss to a team displaying all of the Viking spirit of their forefathers, but handed to them on a plate by an insipid approach to conceding a goal, inconsistency and the lack of any real plan from the so-called superior footballing nation. This isn't truly about the Iceland team though is it? It's about tactical ineptitude, a lack of any composure on the ball, poor movement, maladroit application and schoolboy defending.

England had started very positively. Raheem Sterling, trying to prove worthy of his place, was played a through ball on 4 minutes on which he got the slightest nudge on the ball to knock it into touch, but a questionable challenge from Halldorsson, took Sterling's legs from under him, leaving the referee to make what appeared to be the correct call in pointing to the spot. Wayne Rooney, converted the penalty with typical aplomb and surely we all felt the rout was on? Straight from the kick off, Iceland challenged hard to get on the end of an enormous throw in from Gunnarsson which resulted in Ragnar Sigurdsson picking off of a flick from Arnason to hit the ball home for an equaliser. The length of England's lead? 84 seconds. This is where it all went wrong. The Icelanders, far from being content with an equaliser, drew confidence from the indecision of and the space created by the England defence and the recalled Kyle Walker in particular. They continued to challenge with fast paced, direct aggressive play. Their attacking intent paid off when on 18 minutes, Sigthorsson latched on to a loose ball on the edge of the 18 yard area and managed to push a scuffed (and very saveable) attempt past a hapless Joe Hart.


A complete paucity of creativity from that point onward and minimal effort saw the England team capitulate to the most embarrassing defeat since a team of part-time American's beat the all-conquering England side in 1950. Hodgson had to fall on his sword, so poor was the second half display in particular. What his immediate and seemingly prepared departure statement did though, was deny us an explanation, from his perspective, as to what actually went wrong. He owes us that explanation and many questions at all levels within the game, will be asked over the coming months..

On the pitch few can look themselves in the mirror tonight and Hart will take much of the blame. This City keeper is a good shot stopper and talented athlete, but his mistakes always seem to come when he has time to think. The second goal was bread and butter for a keeper of Hart's talent, yet all he could do was slow an already pedestrian shot down, but not enough to stop it creeping agonisingly over the line. The defence looked ragged throughout. Only Rose looked anything resembling the player he'd been in the Group stages. Chris Smalling, was nervous and indecisive, panicking whenever the ball came near him. Likewise Cahill, though not quite to the same extent. Kyle Walker, many 'experts' pick of the England team before tonight, was culpable of losing his marker for the first goal.

The England Midfield wasn't much better. Dier, completely ineffective in the first half, was withdrawn at half time and replaced by the unfit and clumsy Wilshere. The less said about that the better. Rooney had a reasonable first half and was at the heart of every English attack. The second half saw him losing all of his composure and making control errors, misplacing short passes and getting nowhere near his intended target with the longer ones. Ali was the proverbial headless chicken and missed England's best chance.

At the front, Kane and Sturbridge were full of running but ultimately, wretched in their application of the most basic facets of the game. Nobody demonstrated any craft, or leadership. Certainly by the time Marcus Rashford entered the fray on 85 minutes, it was too late for England. Yet Rashford, England's youngest ever tournament player, was the one tiny positive that we can take from the game, creating more chances in his brief 8 minute spell than the entire team had created in the second half. The question need to be asked though; Why did Rashford only get on the pitch at 85 minutes? It was obvious to any casual observer that nothing was going to happen with the 11 men on the pitch and that change was needed. Much earlier.

In the final analysis, the responsibility falls on the shoulders of Roy Hodgson. An intelligent, multi-lingual, pleasant gentleman who was ultimately out of his depth and who froze when big decisions needed to be made. It would be a shame to see him personally lambasted in the press. He made many mistakes but he was never right for the job in the first place. This embarrassing, ignoble and inglorious exit to the tenacious Icelandic minnows, will prove to be Hodgson's legacy. That's probably a shame, but such risk comes with the job and the expectation of a deeply disappointed and very hurt nation.

The plucky Icelanders have won many friends at this tournament. This team, drawn from a population of just 360,000 people, proves the point regarding being better than the sum of its parts. They came into the tournament having only conceded 6 goals in 10 qualifying games. Their disciplined approach during the group stages, saw them enter the last 16 with the same record as England and be in no doubt, Iceland deserved their victory. They worked hard and flummoxed an England team with their surprisingly positive tactics. The English just didn't know how to respond and were justifiably knocked out of the Tournament. Prior to the game, there was never any real concern with whether this England side would concede any goals or have any chance of losing this game. How very wrong we were!

Chris W

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