When is an elimination from a tournament such as UEFA Euro 2016 is acceptable? As the two Ireland teams are greeted with jubilation by their respective supporters in Dublin and Belfast respectively after second round exits, England media / fans / remain campaign look for answers after their exit.
Do England media and fans put too much pressure on their national side? The lead-up to the tournament suggested that Roy Hodgson had selected a squad with youth and experience. The Lion mascot was helping with the team spirit in the camp. Nothing could deflect that optimism until Russia spoiled the Marseilles riot with that last minute equalizer.
The old wounds of tournaments past came back to haunt England. A 2-1 win against Wales secured qualification to the last sixteen, a fixture where Roy Hodgson was given the benefit of the doubt by throwing on Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge to resurrect their tournament chances. Yes, they delivered scoring a goal each but deeply troubling defensive problems were rearing their head.
An uninspired 0-0 draw against a limited Slovakia side was greeted with indifference; fans accused Slovakia of parking the bus but England lacked the final third nous and cuteness to unlock the defense. Potential for improvement was the key words from the English media hordes tonight and a routine win against a nation who are only delighted to be in the tournament. Wrong.
Apart from the opening exchanges when Daniel Sturridge excellent pass to Raheem Sterling forced the penalty which Wayne Rooney scored, England lacked the poise and quality to unlock an Icelandic defense who were superb throughout. It would be unfair to single out one defender. The unit was immense and did not give England a sniff thereafter.
1-0 up and England should have being in cruise control but the manner in which the equalizer was scored must raise serious questions on the coaching or the ability of the players to pick up information on opposition. Iceland’s opener against Austria came from a long throw which caused havoc in the Austrian defense.
You would think that England would have watched the footage, told Cahill and Smalling to win the first ball and for Dier to be alert on the second ball. Nope. The positioning of Kyle Walker on the goal was horrendous, his positioning and realization of the danger was non-existent as Sigurdsson coasted back the England cover and slotted the ball past Hart. It was unfortunate for Walker who has had a decent tournament but the general systematic errors in the England rearguard to defend a set-piece more noted in the Unibond League will have dismayed fans, pundits alike.
The Iceland second goal further exposed rearguard weakness. Cahill and Smalling as a central defensive pairing were at fault, neither player pressed Sigurdsson or Sigthorsson in the lead-up of the goal. It exposed massive leadership questions from the pair to defend the threat. The Joe Hart party piece cannot be kicked to the kerb but the defensive shape and pressure applied to the Iceland intricate triangular passing routine was awful. Lewington and Neville would have being embarrassed by the roles of the defenders for the goal. Joe Hart’s gloves were coated in butter, another clanger to add to the Wales goal earlier in the tournament.
England were down in the game, cue panic after forty minutes with route one ball. No genuine attempt to unlock the Icelandic defense with passing and movement on the flanks. Players when presented with good positions out wide decided to take an extra touch instead of hitting an early cross. It looked like England players’ minds were blown; could not think clearly and the lack of first touch and delivery from set-piece spoke volumes, something which Hodgson and management had thought was improved during their qualification campaign.
Iceland coped comfortably with England’s threat. I cannot recall the Icelandic keeper making a serious save in that second half and Iceland could have scored an insurance goal to rubber-stamp the victory. This was a victory borne from desire, determination, team work and that each player was equal. Their football at times may have being route one but several passages of play were well worked and exposed England’s lack of creativity in the process.
Roy Hodgson honorably stepped aside and resigned from his post. This result is more than Roy Hodgson. It is a systematic failure of the senior national team to cultivate the right culture for players to express themselves in a creative fashion. The team were stifled. The players may have had their limitations but there is something seriously a miss. The best coaches could not resolve the limited options shown by England at both ends of the pitch.
Grassroots will be mentioned but let us face facts. England need to pick the right players for tournaments of this nature. The omission of Danny Drinkwater was a massive mistake and compounded by the fact that Jordan Henderson received limited game minutes. The decision to get Marcus Rashford spoke panic squad selection to appease the mass media. John Stones – why bring the player if you were only going to keep him on the bench. Danny Rose at full back, defensive inept at dealing with crosses was exposed during the Russian game.
Well done Iceland. France in the quarter finals which will be an incredible night. Iceland have shown England that egos have no place in the dressing room and that team unity and spirit are paramount. The Icelandic conditioning and physicality was too much for England tonight. No money in grassroots will give you that; hunger, determination and ability to adapt in a match have being the hallmarks of this tournament. England have to take note now or else being further cast adrift with the chasing pack.