Roy Hodgson wasted no time after the match in confirming he would be leaving his position, all hope of a new contract having been wrecked by Iceland, though quite where the Football Association goes in search of a successor is a mystery.
1) The FA’s search for a new manager begins now
Gary Neville, sitting beside the outgoing manager, tendered his own resignation here. Gareth Southgate, some bookies’ favourite for the role, cannot simply lean on success in the Toulon Under-21 tournament earlier this summer as reason to be given the job. Dan Ashworth, the FA’s director of elite development, may have to look abroad for a successor of any real weight, though England have been down that road before, and memories of Fabio Capello linger. Hodgson spoke of promise and progress and he did bring through younger players into the setup. Whoever his successor turns out to be has a promising squad with which to work. But recovering from this humiliation may take some time.
2) The senior players let Hodgson down
Given he had arrived in France with such a young squad, Hodgson had been utterly dependent on his more experienced personnel to guide the juniors through. Such as Harry Kane – who appeared mentally exhausted as if two years of non-stop industry had caught up with him – Dele Alli and Eric Dier needed to be reassured by the older heads around them. For a while Wayne Rooney had suggested he would do just that. Yet he was steadily eclipsed here, his passing lacking its usual zest, and when England needed leadership this team merely looked confused and befuddled. His substitution before the end was telling. The same could be said of Joe Hart, who has twice been beaten down low to his left in this tournament, by Gareth Bale from distance and now Kolbeinn Sigthorsson, with the ball slipping through his grasp. On both occasions he knew he should have done better. Hodgson had needed his most established players to excel if the team were going to make an impression. In the end they simply wilted like the rest.
3) England’s defence is still a disaster waiting to happen
All those pre-tournament concerns about England’s back-line had been shunted to one side while this team monopolised possession in the group, the eyes drawn instead to the attacking ambition of the full-backs, but this was normal service resumed. All it took to induce panic across the back-line here were Aron Gunnarsson’s long throws. The coaching staff knew what was coming but the players were still incapable of repelling the threat: cue chaos. Both Rooney and Kyle Walker were culpable at Iceland’s equaliser, and the manner in which England opened up at the second, converted by Sigthorsson as he prised space from Gary Cahill, was embarrassing. Simple lofted passes, or throw-ins from barely inside England’s half, turned this rearguard far too easily. Even Dier, arguably the team’s player of the tournament up to this point, was bypassed and replaced at the break. Imagine what France could have done to England at the Stade de France in the quarter-finals if the hosts built up a head of steam.
4) In times of crisis the naivety is exposed
Just as disappointing was the initial response to Ragnar Sigurdsson’s equaliser. As soon as England were pegged back they began chasing the game in such frantic fashion that one wondered if they had actually been expecting a walkover and assuming energy alone would be enough to prevail. This was a team exposed as wide-eyed and desperate as their attacks broke down so often upon organised, rugged defence. There was a desperation to the approach and a distinct lack of composure, a failing Hodgson attempted to address at the break, to little effect, with Jack Wilshere’s introduction. Certainly chasing the game with anxiety on the rise did little for players whose confidence has been suddenly so brittle. Sterling won the early penalty but was sacrificed before the hour-mark. Kane’s touch has deserted him and Alli snatched at opportunities and even tumbled dubiously in search of a penalty. This was a brutal education.
5) The minnows were not to depart meekly after all
And so to the good news story. After the endeavour previously displayed by Slovakia and Hungary in the group stage had petered out rather miserably in the knockout ties against Germany and Belgium the previous night, it was tempting to assume this tournament had seen the last of the plucky underdog. Think again. Iceland, even shocked by their early concession which might have wrecked other sides’ game-plans, roared back so startlingly here that their giddy support were bellowing hearty olé’s before the break. The delighted disbelief on their fans’ faces summed it up. Lars Lagerback has long had the Indian sign over the English but no one really thought he would unsettle Hodgson’s charges with a team ranked 37 in the world. Yet this was a canny display, targeting Danny Rose and Walker with diagonal passes, a team efficiently sticking to what they do best. They unsettled the English with a plan plenty of clubs in the Premier League used to consider their own. The scenes at the final whistle were staggering, their victory utterly deserved.
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