Sunday 22 April 2018

Hodgson demands ruthless England approach to avoid humiliation of a lifetime

England coach Roy Hodgson. Photo: Reuters
England coach Roy Hodgson. Photo: Reuters

Mark Ogden

He could have been talking about the treatment he will receive if England contrive to suffer the most humiliating defeat in their history by losing to Iceland, but by using words as emotive as "ruthless" and "brutal", Roy Hodgson was spelling out the reality that failure simply is not an option tonight.

Just in case Hodgson and his players had under-estimated the David and Goliath nature of their second-round encounter with the Cinderella team of Euro 2016, a question to Wayne Rooney from Icelandic television about the pressure of avoiding defeat to a "country with a smaller population than Liverpool" was enough to focus English minds.

"The size of the country is just a number," Rooney said. "They put the same number of players on the pitch as us, so it's a fair contest in that respect.

"There's pressure in every game, and fair play to Iceland, they've done well in this tournament. We'll just have to move the ball quicker and take the chances when they come."

The pressure on England to deliver on the Cote d'Azur is intense, and Hodgson and Rooney were quick to avoid any hint of complacency within the camp as they discussed the first meeting between the two nations since Sven-Goran Eriksson walked into the Iceland dressing-room and reminded them it was "only a friendly" prior to 6-1 home victory at the Etihad Stadium in June 2004.


Rooney scored twice that day, but the England captain does not expect a repeat of that turkey-shoot in Nice.

"I remember the game," Rooney said. "It was a good game and a good win for us, but Iceland have done well in this tournament and they have a good squad.

"There are no superstars, but they have a great work ethic in the team and they'll make it difficult for us."

Despite Iceland's success in reaching the knock-out stages in their first appearance at a major tournament, they remain a football minnow and any failure to secure a quarter-final encounter with France in Paris would be regarded as an all-time low for England.

Losing to the United States at the 1950 World Cup and suffering a 6-3 Wembley defeat against Hungary three years later remain the nadirs of English football, but Iceland boasts 7,000 fewer inhabitants than Leicester, so a defeat against a team jointly managed by a veteran coach (Lars Lagerback) and a practising dentist (Heimir Hallgrimsson) would create a new, dark chapter for the English FA.

And Hodgson, whose future as manager depends on progression to the quarter-finals at least, accepts that the time has come for his team to translate territorial dominance into goals after an unconvincing performance as runners-up in Group B.

"We need to be as ruthless as we can possibly be because we know there are no prizes, unfortunately, for playing what some people might think is good football," Hodgson said.

"It's all about winning or losing, and staying in or going out and we have been very brutal with ourselves in that respect and we have a very brutal focus.

"Most importantly I want to see us win. That is the most important thing because in a tournament it's all about wins and, although I personally am satisfied in many ways with some of the football we have played, we haven't won, so what I want to see us do is win and we must take our goal chances.

"I don't think we can be accused of not having imposed ourselves on the game. I don't even think we can be accused of not creating any goal chances because I think we have. But we haven't taken them."

For England and Hodgson, though, it is all about putting the ball into the back of the net against a team who will be as organised and defensively disciplined as the Slovakia team held out for a 0-0 draw in Saint Etienne last Monday.

"We made it very clear amongst ourselves that it doesn't matter that we - in our eyes - are playing well," said Hodgson, who is expected to start Raheem Sterling tonight at the expense of Adam Lallana.

"All that matters is that we haven't won, and when you don't win, you get criticised and perhaps rightly so, because there's always a reason why you haven't won.

"I've been very keen to point out to the players that we've got to make certain that we turn what we think is domination in some games, or imposing our game on to opponents, into wins because if we don't then it's not going to be good enough and we're going to be disappointed.


"We think we have quite a good team and we think we play good football, but unfortunately in a tournament, it's all about if you win.

"We didn't win against Russia, we didn't win against Slovakia. Iceland is the ultimate test because, if we don't win, that's the end for us."

It would almost certainly be the end for Hodgson too, with the ignominy of defeat against Iceland likely to hang over him for the rest of his life.

(© Independent News Service)

ENGLAND (4-2-3-1): Hart; Walker, Smalling, Cahill, Rose; Dier, Rooney; Sterling, Alli, Sturridge; Kane.

ICELAND (4-4-2): Halldorsson; Saevarsson, R Sigurdsson, Arnason, Skulason; Gunnarsson, Gudmundsson, G Sigurdsson, Bjarnason; Sigthorsson, Bodvarsson.

REFEREE - D Skomina (Slovenia)

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