Saturday 25 March 2017

England suffer their greatest humiliation

England 1-2 Iceland

England's goalkeeper Joe Hart fails to stop the shot from Iceland's forward Kolbeinn Sigthorsson squirming past him Photo: PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
England's goalkeeper Joe Hart fails to stop the shot from Iceland's forward Kolbeinn Sigthorsson squirming past him Photo: PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images

Sam Wallace

England teams have found many ways to ruin a tournament summer over the years, and their reputation for underachievement is well earned, but never before have they managed to be eliminated on the international stage by a country with a population smaller than Belfast.

This felt like England's Year Zero, beaten by Iceland, home to 330,000 hardy souls and an admirable football team; this was a dysfunctional result for a dysfunctional football nation. Every time the assumption is made that it can get no worse, the inevitable consequence is that England can write yet another chapter in a ghastly book of failure.

Roy Hodgson - who resigned after last night's defeat - shakes hands with Wayne Rooney after his substitution Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Roy Hodgson - who resigned after last night's defeat - shakes hands with Wayne Rooney after his substitution Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Crashes

In Gelsenkirchen in 2006 it was Portugal; in Bloemfontein four years later it was Germany - and 2016 in Nice was the turn of Iceland, 23 places below England in the Fifa world rankings. The decline in tournament performance is steepening, the crashes becoming ever more damaging and the signs that improvement is no closer to hand.

Roy Hodgson resigned straight after the game, but a whole new generation of players will have this result to follow them around for the rest of their lives, and the successor to Hodgson is a question to which the FA has no obvious answer, the legacy of years of decline in the species of the England manager.

In Nice, England conceded two first-half goals within eight minutes of each other having taken the lead, and then Hodgson's team gradually fell apart.

Harry Kane reacts after England's defeat Photo: ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT / AFP / Getty Images
Harry Kane reacts after England's defeat Photo: ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT / AFP / Getty Images

He brought on Jack Wilshere, and then Jamie Vardy and finally Marcus Rashford, four of his five strikers finishing the game and not an equaliser to be had among them as their manager languished on the ropes.

When Harry Kane hoofed a free-kick into touch with three minutes left, the English support erupted in booing. The descent into self-loathing is the last emotion to be stirred before England go out of a tournament, but usually they at least do so to one of the giants of the game rather than the smallest nation to have qualified for a European championships.

After Wayne Rooney's penalty had given England the lead, the second-half performance was risible, a jumble of formations, an absence of any ideas and a wholly predictable conclusion.

There was a magnificent effort from Iceland and especially their two central defenders Kari Arnason and Ragnar Sigurdsson, the latter of whom scored their first goal.

Iceland players celebrate while England players are dejected at the end of the match Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Iceland players celebrate while England players are dejected at the end of the match Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

What turned out to be the winner was a mistake by Joe Hart from Kolbeinn Sigthorsson's shot that only the Manchester City goalkeeper can explain on a day when this team simply caved in. Their manager will take most of the blame, but this was one of those days when the whole of English football needed to take stock.

It might sound strange in the circumstances but the worst half-time score in England's tournament history came at the end of a half in which they had not always played that badly. They had catastrophic moments - two to be precise - and then the rest of it was largely the procession of England attacks that you might have expected from 66pc possession.

In fact, they moved the ball more swiftly and intelligently at times than they have done before at Euro 2016, and they passed the ball to both sides to probe openings against the 11 men ranged against them. There were a few times when Iceland trapped them dawdling on the halfway line but generally England switched sides quickly enough until the last 10 minutes of the half.

There were two fine moments from Daniel Sturridge: the first the ball that earned England a penalty in the third minute, and then a cross for Kane to volley.

The penalty came when Raheem Sterling got away from the right-back Birkir Saevarsson, and then the goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson who brought him down. Rooney buried the penalty and England looked in a good place.

Catastrophe

It was less than two minutes before they conceded the equaliser, the first catastrophe when the team seemed numbed by their own start and did not react to the long throw from captain Aron Gunnarsson, which was flicked on by Arnason and into the path of Sigurdsson. He had run away from Kyle Walker to force the ball in from close range.

Between then and Iceland's second, England had three good opportunities: a Dele Alli volley that went just over, and a similar effort from Kane.

The second catastrophe will forever rest with Hart, although there were errors that preceded his. From Gylfi Sigurdsson to Jon Dadi Bodvarsson and into the path of Sigthorsson, one of the Icelanders playing at a higher level at Nantes, the ball was moved easily. Sigthorsson hit a very saveable shot to Hart's left and, as with Gareth Bale's free-kick in the group game against Wales, the England goalkeeper was never able to get his hands solid enough to push the ball away.

It simply went through Hart and as the ball was returned to the centre circle you could see that he knew that, as he seemed to berate himself with a punch on the side of his own head.

Now his team were in a hole. They had to force their way past an Iceland team playing for the moment of their lives, and their nation's game. The heat was draining and even with all that possession you could see England start to fade at the end of the half.

The frustration manifested itself in a dive by Alli in the area that he was fortunate not to be punished for and, as the teams went in, there were pockets of England fans who responded to the whistle for half-time with a groan that developed into booing.

After the break, England looked tired and there were chances for Iceland that might have gone in, including an overhead kick from Sigurdsson that Hart saved.

As time wore on, the Icelanders could sense that their moment was coming. There was no sophistication from England and they simply played into their opponents' hands. Hart came up for the final corner, Chris Smalling headed wide and then it was over.

The repercussions, however, had only just begun.

Telegraph.co.uk

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