England booed off after failing against Iceland once more in Euros warm-up

Estimated read time 5 min read

It was a long way from being the triumphant Euro 2024 send-off for Gareth Southgate and his England players at a sold-out and increasingly fretful Wembley. Never mind the result because it was not the main thing, however much it stirred memories of you-know-when against Iceland.

It was the performance that raised the difficult questions, the worst one for quite some time and at exactly the wrong time. The home fans, thousands of whom made for the exits before the end, were forced to watch the second half – from about minute 55 onwards – through the gaps between their fingers. It had not been great before that.

Iceland scored early through Jon Dagur Thorsteinsson, the visitors finding time and space with ease, and it would be a theme of what followed in the second half, England’s defending so generous. Marc Guéhi struggled in the centre while John Stones, who took a heavy challenge at the outset before making way at half-time, was off the pace. Stones would depart with his right foot heavily strapped. It was tough to single them out. Kobbie Mainoo and Phil Foden could get little going in midfield.

There were boos at half-time and they would return with increased force upon the final whistle. England did not look as though they believed they would equalise as the second-half minutes ticked down and the truth was they could have conceded again.

In creative terms, Southgate’s team flattered to deceive: lots of flicks, not enough power and conviction, the end product so frustrating. It was mostly confused and the post-match lap of appreciation could not have been flatter. Like much of the performance.

It was certainly the worst possible start for England. Southgate had taken a few uneasy breaths inside the first minute when Stones went down and stayed down, having got his foot tangled underneath Thorsteinsson after they tussled with each other and went to ground.

Stones would continue but he was a part of the defensive inquest when Thorsteinsson stunned Wembley with the breakthrough on 12 minutes. It was uncomfortable to see how much space Hakon Arnar Haraldsson had in Mainoo’s area of midfield and he went left for Thorsteinsson.

With Walker not in the picture, Stones was slow to get across and close down and when Thorsteinsson cut inside to unload for the near post, Aaron Ramsdale was also slow to react. The ball flashed past him and it was not exactly flush in the corner. Ramsdale, who had been given the opportunity ahead of Jordan Pickford, looked disappointed with himself.

John Stones fails to prevent Jon Dagur Thorsteinsson giving Iceland the lead.View image in fullscreen

There was a moment midway through the first half when Southgate had to urge his players to stay calm. He had just seen Foden play a pass up the line to nobody, shortly after drawing a sigh from the crowd with an overhit cross. Southgate had started Foden in the No 10 role, Cole Palmer to the right, Anthony Gordon to the left. It was not Foden’s night; he lost possession too often. Gordon’s ability to run with the ball and beat his man was an isolated plus point.

England’s close passing was too intricate, too tight and Iceland were able to mass bodies behind the ball and make life difficult. Southgate’s team did have first-half chances, including two big ones, the biggest for Kane in the 28th minute. Palmer picked him out with a nice cross only for the captain, unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box, to blaze the volley off target.

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Before that, Palmer had seen a shot turned away by the defender Daniel Leo Grétarsson, after Declan Rice had harried the goalkeeper, Hákon Rafn Valdimarsson, into a poor pass. Palmer had plenty of the goal to aim at with Valdimarsson out of position. Gordon also got a curler for the far corner all wrong on 15 minutes after a flowing move. The first half would end with Guéhi making an important block on a shot from Arnor Ingvi Traustason.

It was a psychological test for Southgate’s team, as much as anything else – a line that is likely to be written regularly in the weeks ahead. Four of the starters had no experience of a major international tournament; ditto four of those who came on. It was easy to worry about the inexperience, especially the back four that finished the game; Ezri Konsa on alongside Guéhi, Joe Gomez on at left-back.

England hinted at the equaliser after the restart. Foden dragged wide after a Gordon pull-back while Palmer tried and failed to round Valdimarsson following a Rice pass that looked to have been meant for Kane. And yet with England pushing up, high and open, Iceland ought to have plundered a second on the break. When Haraldsson ran in behind from halfway, Iceland had two on one. His cross was made to measure for Thorsteinsson and he had to score only to slip at the crucial moment.

Iceland would have another big chance when Sverrir Ingason escaped Guéhi on a corner only to head too close to Ramsdale. Two of Southgate’s substitutes – Ivan Toney and Trent Alexander-Arnold – would go close. The latter impressed with his passing from right-back. In between times, Kolbeinn Finnsson almost caught out Ramsdale from distance. For England, it could have been worse.

Source: theguardian.com

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