England risk ultimate slip against upstarts Iceland
For England it should be a routine assignment against a rank outsider ahead of bigger tests while for Iceland it is the pinnacle of the country’s sporting history
For England it should be a routine assignment against a rank outsider ahead of bigger tests while for Iceland it is the pinnacle of the country’s sporting history, which makes Monday’s Euro 2016 clash a mouth-watering prospect.
England’s players cheered, along with most neutrals, when Arnor Ingvi Traustason snatched a stoppage-time breakaway goal to beat Austria in Iceland’s final group game as it meant England would not, after all, be facing Portugal in the last 16.
Yet, once the dust settled on that extraordinary finale, the England coaching team had to get to work quickly to refocus their players away from thinking they had been offered an easy route into the quarter-finals.
Iceland have already exceeded expectations by qualifying second in their group behind Hungary and will go into the game with nothing to lose and the whole world, beyond England, willing them on.
In Iceland, where English football and the Premier League is almost worshipped, they are loving every minute of their amazing first taste of a major tournament, but for the players and experienced coach Lars Lagerback it is not party time yet.
“We’re preparing for the game against England, not losing ourselves in the celebrations,” said midfielder Elmar Bjarnason of a side who believe their performances in France show their qualification for the tournament, after home and away wins over the Netherlands, was no fluke.
In Swede Lagerback they have a coach who certainly has no fear of Monday’s big-name rivals.
“I’ve played England six times and I have never lost,” he said this week after two wins and four draws against them as Sweden coach.
Iceland are unlikely to change the way they have performed so far, defending deep and then showing remarkable commitment when they do break forward.
England came up against a similar defensive approach in their final group game against Slovakia but, despite the attacking talent and proven scoring ability in the team, very rarely looked like finding a way through in a 0-0 draw.
Coach Roy Hodgson is expected to revert to the team with which he began the tournament, with the exception of Daniel Sturridge coming in for Raheem Sterling.
Harry Kane, yet to find the net or look remotely like scoring, will again lead the line with Wayne Rooney reinstalled as the man pulling the strings in midfield.
England, though, will also need the likes of midfielders Adam Lallana and Dele Alli to start living up to their billing and creating chances for themselves and others if Hodgson’s men are to secure only their second European Championship knockout stage win following a shootout success over Spain in 1996.
They followed that by losing to Germany on penalties in the semi-finals and on the horizon here are potentially daunting tests against the likes of France, Spain, Italy or Germany.
However, England cannot though start looking any further than Monday or they could suffer the ultimate slip-up.