Iceland stun England as Euro dream continues
NICE – Iceland pulled off one of the biggest shocks in European Championship history when they stunned abject England 2-1 on Monday, leading Roy Hodgson to quit and sending the tiny nation into a quarter-final against hosts France.
Although the soccer pedigrees of the two countries could not be more different, Iceland looked the better team in just about every aspect of the game and fully deserved to extend their dream run on their first tournament appearance.
After falling behind to a fourth-minute Wayne Rooney penalty they levelled almost immediately through Ragnar Sigurdsson and struck again in the 18th with a shot by Kolbeinn Sigthorsson.
A ponderous England never looked remotely capable of finding a way back into the game and even at the end when they were reduced to launching long balls into the box, Iceland dealt with everything comfortably.
“It feels fantastic to come here as an underdog and perform in this way,” said Iceland joint-coach Lars Lagerback, who also claimed two wins and four draws against England in his days as Sweden manager.
Pundits were quick to rank England’s defeat alongside that against the amateurs of the United States in the 1950 World Cup but such a judgement conveniently overlooks the progress the Icelanders have made in recent seasons, not least in beating the Netherlands home and away to get to France in the first place.
It also fails to take into account England’s miserable European Championship record, where they have won only one knockout match, on penalties at home to Spain in 1996.
Hodgson, who steered the team to 10 straight wins in qualifying, duly became the latest in a long line of England managers to fall on his sword after a failure to get to the business end when it really matters.
“Now is the time for someone else to oversee the progress of a hungry and extremely talented group of players,” Hodgson said, reading a prepared statement.
“They have done fantastically, and done everything asked of them,” he added in a bizarre account of yet another failure to perform at a major tournament.
It all looked so different for England at the start when Raheem Sterling was hauled down by keeper Hannes Halldorsson, allowing Rooney to smash them ahead from the penalty spot on his 115th appearance, matching David Beckham’s outfield record.
The lead lasted less than two minutes, though, as Iceland, scored via an Aron Gunnarsson long throw, just as they had predicted. It was flicked on by Kari Arnason to an unmarked Ragnar Sigurdsson to sweep home.
If England’s defending was bad for that goal it was disastrous for the second as Iceland were allowed time and space on the edge of the box to set up Sigthorsson for a low shot that Joe Hart should have saved but merely took the power off as it rolled over the line.
England looked shell-shocked and spent the rest of the half struggling to make any inroads, their front men and attacking midfielders static, and were booed off by their own fans.
England threw on midfielder Jack Wilshere for the second half and then striker Jamie Vardy but the team’s passing was awful and their movement sluggish. -Reuters