Monday, June 03, 2024

Greatest Euro matches: England-Iceland (2016)

ll countries appear to have a golden generation in football, and the 2016 Iceland side most definitely count as Iceland’s Golden Generation, that put the small northern Atlantic nation on the footballing maps of the world. 

Already during qualification the Icelanders had caught the attention of the world: they were particularly strong at home in Reykyavik, not losing a single match, and defeating teams like the Czech Republic, Turkey and Netherlands. And it was the Netherlands that suffered the Icelandic unlikely rise, as the lost at home to Iceland, that sealed Iceland’s first qualification ever to a major tournament. 

Iceland’s squad was managed by the former Swedish manager Lars Lagerback, with lot of experience and who had built a solid team with a mixture of players from medium level European clubs. Their most notable player was the 38-year old veteran Eidur Gudjohnsen, who with a long career in clubs like Chelsea and Barcelona, was playing in Norwegian Molde at the time, but did no longer play a leading role. In the meantime players like Aron Gunnarsson and Gylfi Sigurdsson, from Cardiff and Swansea respectively, played leading roles. Defense was built around Ragnar Sigurdsson, from Russian Krasnodar and Kari Arnasson from Malmø FF. Midfield was complemented by experienced and solid players like Johann Berg Gudundsson from Charlton Athletic, Birkir Bjarnasson from Swiss Basel, and Emil Hallfredsson from Udinese. Finally, they had some interesting strikers in Jon Dadi Bodvarsson from 1.FC Kaiserslautern and Kolbein Sigthorson from Nantes in France. 

Despite their qualification results and the experienced side, expectations were not high as they drew giants Portugal, Hungary and Austria in their opening stage group, and they opened against one of the favourites: Portugal. Although Portugal heavily criticized the Icelanders for their defensive posture, truth was that the 1-1 result was not just surprising, but fully deserved, as the Icelanders showed that qualification had not been a one-off event. Followed by a large crowd of fantastic fans they went on to tie 1-1 with the later group winners of Hungary, and defeated Austria 2-1 to sensationally make it to the last-16, where they were to face none other than England! 

As almost every tournament, England entered as favourites, at least to themselves, but this time there seemed to be reason for some optimism: England had qualified in style, winning all their matches. The team, managed by the experienced Roy Hodgson, was full of players playing at the highest level in the Premier League, in teams such as Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham. The team captain was the veteran superstar Wayne Rooney from Manchester United, complemented by other strong striker’s such as Tottenham’s Harry Kane and Leicester’s Jamie Vardy. The Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart had experienced Gary Cahill from Chelsea in front of him. Experienced midfielders like Liverpool’s James Millner and Jordan Henderson, as well as Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere also complemented some exciting young players such as Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford, Tottenham’s Dele Alli and Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling. 

All in all it seemed expectations were justified, and they had no reason to complain about their first round grouping with Wales, Slovakia and Russia. 

But it did not start well. The first match against Russia ended 1-1 with a last minute Russian equalizer. In the derby against Wales England pulled a hard-fought last minute 2-1 victory, only to miss winning the group when they only tied 0-0 with Slovakia in the last match in a disappointing match. Still, without playing well, England was through and probably felt they had little to feat when facing Iceland in the knock-out phases. 

Roy Hodgson lined up a three-man defense and gave the opportunity to many of the younger players. In the meantime Iceland had no changes from their previous three matches, and although a hard fighting side, they also appeared predictable. 

Only 4 minutes into the match Daniel Sturridge was awarded a penalty kick that Wayne Rooney scored on. Perhaps England were two optimistic, but only two minutes later the defender Ragnar Siggurdson scored following one of the long throws from Aron Gunnarson, one threat that England knew they should have defended against. Iceland were on fire and barely ten minutes later the Nantes player Kolbeinn Sigthorsson got a shot through between the defenders. Hart was too slow, and although getting his hand on the ball and slowing it, it still passed him and went into goal. 

2-1 for Iceland, and much of the match to go, so one would expect England to pressure, and they did, but never really created much danger except for many long-shots that never really threatened the Icelanders who, as the match advanced, not only seemed to fight harder and harder, but also became more threatening in the counterattacks. Sigthorsson even came close to score on a bicycle kick, which would have been a complete humiliation for England. 

Many called it one of the greatest humiliations of an English side, but truth is that they played very poorly in a match where they should have shown more. Roy Hodgson immediately resigned while England had to lick its wounds and look forward to the next tournament. In the meantime Iceland and their splendid fans were unexpectedly in the quarterfinals facing the French hosts. They lost the match 5-2 in Paris, but it was definitely a memorable tournament for a side that took Europe with storm for the first time!

Nice, 27th June 2016, Alianz Riviera 
Attendance: 33,900 
Referee: Damir Skomina (Slovenia) 

England- Iceland 1-2 

England: Joe Hart; Kyle Walker, Gary Cahill, Chris Smalling,; Danny Rose, Eric Dyer (Jack Wilshere, 45), Dele Alli, Daniel Sturridge; Harry Kane, Wayne Rooney (c) (Marcus Rashford, 86), Raheem Sterling (Jamie Vardy, 60). Coach: Roy Hodgson;
Iceland: Hannes Haldorsson; Birkir Mar Sævarsson, Kari Arnason, Ragnar Sigurdsson, Ali Freyr Skulason; Johann Berg Gudmundsson, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Aron Gunnarsson (c), Birkir Bjarnason; Kolbein Sigthorsson (Elmar Bjarnason, 76), Jon Bodvarsson (arbor Ingvi Traustason, 89). Coach: Lars Lagerbäck 

1-0 Wyne Rooney (pen) (4) 
1-1 Ragnar Sigurdsson (6) 
1-2 Kolbein Sigthorsson (18)

No comments: