England find their level, Iceland exceed theirs

Janek Speight Columnist

By Janek Speight, Janek Speight is a Roar Expert

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    “We are into the next round and nobody will want to play us. I haven’t had anything to do in the whole tournament to be honest. We have been playing very well as a team.”

    England goalkeeper Joe Hart’s comments preceding his country’s Euro 2016 round of 16 clash against Iceland were typical.

    As were those suggesting defeat to Iceland would be the nation’s biggest embarrassment.

    Bravado, overconfidence, entitlement and with a hint of insincerity. Believing in a team is one thing, ignoring its limitations is another.

    It is true that England had dominated possession in games against Russia, Wales and Slovakia. Yet they had come away with a draw, a last-gasp win and another stalemate. Despite finishing second in Group B, however, they were still awarded an ‘easy’ path to the Euro quarter-finals.

    In their group games, England struggled to find rhythm and a ruthless streak in the final third, their midfield looked laborious and slow in transition and all the hype over Wayne Rooney’s new role in the centre of the pitch was overblown. The only truly impressive aspect of their squad was three quality fullbacks.

    Still, the excuses were already there. “If we face a team that tries to play football, we’ll show our true quality,” was a common response. It was the wrong attitude. This was not a functioning unit, rather a bunch of stars squashed into a line-up with little thought how they would coordinate.

    Contrast this temperament with the Italians, who had earlier faced Spain in Monday’s other round of 16 fixture. In the minutes before kick-off, you could already see which team was progressing to the next round. The rousing rendition of Il Canto degli Italiani was, as usual, breathtaking.

    Captain Gigi Buffon led the pre-game bear hugs and what you saw was a team, willing to fight as a team, win as a team, lose as a team. They magnificently defeated the Spanish 2-0, signalling an end to a great era of La Roja under Vicente del Bosque.

    Similarly, preceding the England versus Iceland game, just from looking at the once again over-exuberant confidence exuding from Joe Hart, all fluster no buster, was ominous.

    Hart’s persona in world football encapsulates not only the England football team, but a section of their supporters as well, and English pundits, who all thought the Three Lions were a good chance of going far in this tournament. And capable of easily dealing with Iceland.

    All ego, no substance.

    This group of players have been pampered their entire lives. Highly paid, assured their talents are above and beyond those in other countries because they play in the ‘best league in the world’. Quite a few EPL fans have similarly been pampered, quick to disregard the talents on display outside the top teams in other leagues.

    Roy Hodgson inevitably is copping much of the blame in the aftermath of England’s defeat to Iceland, an island of about 330,000 as opposed to a majority of an island with 53 million inhabitants.

    It would be unfair to lay all of the blame at his feet, but for a man who said, “Systems win you nothing. Football players win you games”, it is understandable.

    Hodgson made bizarre tactical substitutions, persevered with Harry Kane over Jamie Vardy and failed to find a cohesive midfield. He took Marcus Rashford over Andy Carroll, Jordan Henderson over Danny Drinkwater and a clearly unfit Jack Wilshere over England’s only genuine winger, Andros Townsend.

    One thing Hodgson should at least be commended for is starting the process of blooding youth – this was the youngest squad at the Euro – even if it came too late.

    The truth behind England, though, is that this squad found its level. They were not good enough.

    Top 16 in Europe is about right for England at this moment. Sure, they should have beaten Iceland on paper, but it would have just delayed the inevitable. It is doubtful whether any of the England XI, outside their fullbacks, would have made the first teams of Germany, Spain or France.

    They would have even struggled to break into Italy’s ‘worst team in 50 years’, where coach Antonio Conte, in his own words, “chose 23 players who all have my utmost trust”. How many of England’s stars would have developed Conte’s trust with their attitude?

    Now the search for a new England manager starts, and perhaps they should turn to Australia. After all, we have already provided the country with their rugby union (Eddie Jones), rugby league (Wayne Bennett) and cricket (Trevor Bayliss) coaches…

    However, enough about the overrated founders of football. This should be about the plucky underdogs, Iceland.

    What a story theirs has been so far. A dentist has conquered a nation known for its poor dental hygiene. A nation with an infectious Viking clap-chant has once again marauded its neighbours across the Atlantic Ocean, sending them back to a past life they so desperately sought in a recent referendum.

    You could say that whatever happens from here, Iceland can be proud. Bugger that, France are next on the chopping block. As The Roar‘s Matthew Connellan said, why not?

    For while England fans were adamant that once their team was allowed to play football they would show their true quality, Iceland gave them that very opportunity. They defended in numbers, but they were also exciting in attack – and not just for the first 20 minutes.

    They were passing the ball crisply at times, switching possession intelligently to catch England’s static shape out of place and creating chances at an impressive rate for a country with no professional league.

    While Iceland were indeed boring and unfashionable when stealing a point from Portugal in their opening game, the confidence levels have slowly surged, culminating in a wonderful display of both defence and offence against the Three Lions.

    There was no fear, there were no nerves. Captain Aron Gunnarsson’s beaming smile when missing a one-on-one to put Iceland 3-1 ahead said it all. This team was confident, but it was also enjoying the ride.

    When England went ahead from an early Wayne Rooney penalty – inch-perfect it must be said – most thought the game was over. But Iceland’s now famous spirit did not wilt. It did not shrink in those dangerous minutes directly following half-time, and it did not swing in the final moments of the match.

    Iceland looked like a team with a plan, both when heroically breaking down England’s attacks and when adventurously streaming forward with the ball, belying their reputation as a solid defensive outfit. England, on the other hand, looked devoid of any ideas.

    Regurgitating Iceland’s rise in football from second-hand sources would be disingenuous. This feature is all you need.

    They have come a long way, and motivation to reach this level can be partially attributed to the extended format of the Euro, which must now be hailed as a success. Work is still required to rejig the qualifying format for the round of 16, but overall it has been positive.

    Italy and Iceland have shown the tournament what it means to play as a team, defeating more talented and illustrious individuals. Two remaining heavyweights, France and Germany, are next. Don’t write off another couple of upsets.

    Janek Speight
    Janek Speight

    Janek is a freelance journalist based in Berlin. You can follow him on Twitter, @JanekSpeight

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    The Crowd Says (53)

    • Roar Rookie

      June 29th 2016 @ 6:40am
      Stevo said | June 29th 2016 @ 6:40am | ! Report

      It’s clearly not that the English don’t have the players. Nobody is suggesting that man-for-man, pound-for-pound the Vikings were superior to the Poms. So what does that leave you with? Hodgson failed, Conte has been outstanding. Forget the players. The failure rests squarely on the shoulders of Roy.

      • June 29th 2016 @ 8:07am
        Fadida said | June 29th 2016 @ 8:07am | ! Report

        They don’t have the players. A very very average squad

        • Roar Rookie

          June 29th 2016 @ 8:31am
          Stevo said | June 29th 2016 @ 8:31am | ! Report

          Are you saying they didn’t have the players to beat Iceland?

          • June 29th 2016 @ 8:45am
            Fadida said | June 29th 2016 @ 8:45am | ! Report

            They have a very average group of players. Should they beat Iceland? Probably. Were they ever a chance to go close to winning any tournament? No. They weren’t nearly good enough when they had Beckham, Scholes, Shears, Owen etc. This group are miles from that. A real lack of quality

          • June 29th 2016 @ 9:50am
            AGO74 said | June 29th 2016 @ 9:50am | ! Report

            A champion team will always beat a team of premier league champions….

        • June 29th 2016 @ 10:47am
          Sydneysider said | June 29th 2016 @ 10:47am | ! Report

          apart from their defence and goalkeeper, do you think Italy has the players?

          this is the worst squad Italy has selected for a tournament since the 1986 world cup.

          Just goes to show, how much of a difference a good manager/coach makes….

    • June 29th 2016 @ 8:14am
      Fadida said | June 29th 2016 @ 8:14am | ! Report

      Agree Janek, all ego no substance.

      I have been watching England fail miserably since 1982. This failure was guaranteed as it is easily the worst group of players in that period. In that 34 year period England and English football have learnt nothing. No surprise they fall behind further each year. They didn’t even notice that we were the better side in the last game between the countries.

      It is also no surprise that they usual names are put forward, all English of course. They could do so much worse than look to Australia. Ange is much better than any of their own candidates, but because he’s Australian they won’t see it. Ego, insularity etc

      I was accused of being anti -English when I mocked the idea that they could win, or go close. They were even worse than I thought.

      I await my apologies.

      • June 29th 2016 @ 9:08am
        northerner said | June 29th 2016 @ 9:08am | ! Report

        I don’t think any rational person expected England to be in the finals – they haven’t had that kind of quality for a long time. I do think it was reasonable to expect they could defeat Iceland, though. With or without good coaching, they have highly paid pros who should have been capable of taking out the vikings. That they didn’t says a great deal about the mentality of English football these days.

        Not sure about whether they’d look offshore for their next coach – they’ve done it before, albeit with mixed success.

      • June 29th 2016 @ 9:37am
        Bondy said | June 29th 2016 @ 9:37am | ! Report


        Pretty accurate post there .

      • Roar Guru

        June 29th 2016 @ 11:47am
        Griffo said | June 29th 2016 @ 11:47am | ! Report

        I understand the sentiment – I am as proud as anyone of Ange being our National Team coach – but you, Waz et al need to lay off trying to give him away to the Poms. 😆

        Someone, somewhere over there, will get desperate…

        • June 29th 2016 @ 1:15pm
          Fadida said | June 29th 2016 @ 1:15pm | ! Report

          They aren’t too keen on”foreigns” so we’re safe.

          • June 29th 2016 @ 10:09pm
            13th Man said | June 29th 2016 @ 10:09pm | ! Report

            Funny that because since there cricket and rugby teams finally employed a foreigner (Trevor Bayliss and Eddie Jones) there national sides have had far more success… Perhaps an Australian coach is exactly what they need…

          • July 4th 2016 @ 11:13pm
            Freddie said | July 4th 2016 @ 11:13pm | ! Report

            Typically chippy response from Fat Ida. Bet he was nowhere to be seen when England were winning the rugby & cricket.

            The loss to Iceland was England’s poorest performance for years no doubt, and there’s a lot wrong with English football. But they’re far from the third world nation some would have you believe. Aussies are obsessed with England, just look at the articles on this site.

            • July 5th 2016 @ 6:45am
              Da Spoon said | July 5th 2016 @ 6:45am | ! Report

              It’s always been the same on here Freddie. If a Brit wins anything they’ll try to discredit them. Eg the coach isn’t British, they have non British grandmother They’re on drugs they paid the referee they created a pitch suite them, they took advantage of the weather etc etc etc. It’s hilarious

              Been a good week. Murray thrashing krygios, 2 wins for Cavendish in le tour, Wales thrashing Belgium, Hamilton thrashing Rosberg.

              • July 5th 2016 @ 6:59am
                Da Spoon said | July 5th 2016 @ 6:59am | ! Report

                Forgot to mention thrashing srilanka at cricket

        • Roar Guru

          June 29th 2016 @ 3:29pm
          Griffo said | June 29th 2016 @ 3:29pm | ! Report

          Agree with that.

          Had a quick look for interest, and the last foreign coach was Fabio Capello (resigned February 2012) before the only other foreign coach (and first foreigner to take on the post) was our old mate Sven (replaced after 2006 World Cup).

          Two since 1947. Yeah, go ahead Ange 😈

      • July 5th 2016 @ 6:54am
        Da Spoon said | July 5th 2016 @ 6:54am | ! Report

        But you are anti-British. You exude hatred.

      • July 5th 2016 @ 7:13am
        Da Spoon said | July 5th 2016 @ 7:13am | ! Report

        Fadida you have an obsession with Britain as do a number of Aussies on here. It’s difficult to understand for me. It the equivalent of me setting up a website to have a go at Poland or Spain or another country of my choice. I just wouldn’t even think about doing it an don’t know why you do it. To me you have something wrong with you.

    • June 29th 2016 @ 9:20am
      Towser said | June 29th 2016 @ 9:20am | ! Report

      “Easily the worst group of players” big call Fadida above, but agree as far as learning anything new to put on the table for the English NT , nothing to see here.
      We can read and have read numerous reasons put forward by far greater football luminaries than on here , particularly from former England greats like Shearer who put up their hand to coach England when such Icelandic moments happen.
      Do they have the answers it appears not. Reasons for continued failure are many, team of stars(supposedly) but not a team in the Icelandic and it would seem the current Italian side mould.
      Too much work rate emphasis at a young age, rather than ball skills, too one dimensional.
      The EPL creating soft(mentally) and pampered English players and so on.
      I watched a program recently about the 1966 World Cup and we can argue that “home ground advantage” had some part as well as luck. However my overiding impression was that(for the time)England had found the right manager in Alf Ramsey in inspiring an “English team ” mentality along the lines of current day Iceland , players willing to fight for the National team. Alf kept them on their toes, with nobody assured of their place in the team.
      Some handy players granted , but the team prevailed above individuality and mentally they were from another planet, Geoff Hurst went home to mow his lawn after the 1966 World Cup Final win.
      In those days teams like Iceland would have been hammered by England, Scotland etc. Whats changed?
      How can a team from an Island with a 330,000 population with no professional National League take it to a a country with a 50 million population and 4 professional divisions that pull in over 30 million punters per season.
      Seems the secret is better systems of play, better facilities but above all the thing that Alf captured in 1966, “Team effort” all for one and one for all.
      Even if England doesn’t produce a Messi or Ronaldo(even then does such a player unbalance the International team effort?) they should on paper given the same ingredients as Iceland wipe the floor with them.
      FInd those ingredients(and I believe this is Ange’s MO) and your cooking with gas, can England recreate 1966 again?
      I dont know, times are different the EPL is a monster gobbling up English football, it consumes the football mind.
      Does the modern English player want to succumb to a modern day Sir Alf, in fact would he be able to handle a SIr Alf or is the Lamborghini in the car park more appealing than mowing the lawn?

      • June 29th 2016 @ 9:31am
        Fadida said | June 29th 2016 @ 9:31am | ! Report

        The game has changed though Towser. The so called minnows no longer have their “floors wiped”. Organisation, system and tactics are more than ever essential. There are rarely blowouts in internationals any more. The world had caught up but England still don’t realise it.

        What Iceland have done is put all their resources into grassroots, no surprise given the size of the country. England have never focussed on grassroots. The argument is a!ways the EPL is the best. Why change? What they miss is that it is not the best quality, and it is supported by a huge influx of quality from elsewhere, attracted by the highest wages. The same high wages that prevent English players going else where and becoming better players.

        The ’92 group under Taylor is the only squad arguably anywhere near as weak as this lot, but even then they had Lineker, Barnes, Shearer, Pearce, Walker, Keown, Platt et al, so a far superior team!

        • July 3rd 2016 @ 12:36am
          Hammerhead said | July 3rd 2016 @ 12:36am | ! Report

          Exactly. The ‘best’ managers in the EPL right now are foreigners, eg Ranieri, Pocchetino, Bilic, Koeman, Guardiola, Mourinho etc.

          England hasn’t had a good manager since Terry Venables.

    • June 29th 2016 @ 9:22am
      Fadida said | June 29th 2016 @ 9:22am | ! Report


      If they don’t look offshore they are looking at Fat Sam and Pardew. Neither will get them further than Hodgson. The problem is the mentality is still to want an English coach despite not having any of the world’s top 50 coaches.

      They may be highly paid pros but that doesn’t provide any guarantee of quality, instead indicating they are paid 10x more than they are worth. It’s called the English premium

    • June 29th 2016 @ 9:22am
      RBBAnonymous said | June 29th 2016 @ 9:22am | ! Report

      Beaten by fishermen :))

    • June 29th 2016 @ 10:03am
      Mukhtar said | June 29th 2016 @ 10:03am | ! Report

      Never underestimate an opponent who has nothing to lose. England did, and paid the price.
      Also Iceland qualified from a torrid group, beating the Netherlands, home and away.
      They knew their own game, they knew the opposition – Lars Lagerback, Iceland’s manager, had coached against England 6 times previously, and never lost.

      England’s players may have had the help of leading psychologists, but there is no replacement for starch, BMT etc.
      Plucky, resolute Iceland blew the Inger-land away.
      Commiserations to the English – they have some young, promising talent.
      I hope the new manager is able to fashion them into a strong outfit, not unlike Eddie Jones’ English team.

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