Monday night saw the last of the quarter finalists picked as Iceland pulled off a famous victory. The small Nordic Island, with a population of only 320,000, sent England home early from yet another international tournament after the entertaining game which finished 2-1.
The English team, who may be forgiven for thinking this game would be a formality, took an early lead through a Wayne Rooney penalty in the 4th minute. Raheem Sterling broke into the box and was spared the blushes of a poor touch by being taken down by the Icelandic keeper, Halldorsson. Rooney, on the day he equalled David Beckham’s record of 115 England caps for an outfield player, converted with ease. Their joy was short lived however as less than 2 minutes later Ragnar Sigurdsson turned home for Iceland, after a long throw into the box was flicked onto him.
Things went from bad to worse for England soon after, when Sigthorsson’s shot from outside the box caused Hart to produce a blunder which England have become so accustomed to in major tournaments. It’s true what they say; if you don’t shoot, you won’t score, and credit to Sigthorsson for taking the shot, but the low, weak drive should have caused Hart no problems. Instead the keepers glove only reached the top of the ball and he could do nothing more but watch it as it slowly trickled over the line.
Try as they might England failed to make a breakthrough. Dier was replaced by Wilshere after half-time and in-form Vardy replaced Sterling after 60 minutes. Still they found themselves unable to penetrate the Icelandic defence. A late Kane header straight at the keeper proved to be their best chance of the second half. 18-year old Marcus Rashford came on for the disappointing Wayne Rooney in the 87th minute and made a lightening impact on the left wing with a mazy run into the box which resulted in a corner. The Icelandic players, clearly exhausted, struggled to deal with the young Manchester United forward. It was a case of too little too late for England though as the full time whistle went after 4 minutes of injury time.
Many will point to the immediate impact of Rashford and wonder why the increasingly disappointing Wayne Rooney was not taken off early. England fans will also be disapointed in the average displays from the Premier League Golden boot winner Harry Kane. Joe Hart accepted the blame for last night’s defeat telling ITV “I’ve got to be saving the second goal. I’ve got to hold my hands up to that and I apologise for ultimately costing us the game and the tournament,”. England never really got going in the tournament though. They may have been unlucky to only draw against Russia in their opening group match but they could count themselves lucky to beat Wales with an injury time winner before only managing a bore draw against Slovakia. Unsurprisingly Roy Hodgson had his letter of resignation ready as he met the press after the match.
For Iceland however this day will surely go down as one of the greatest moments in their football history. The Nordic Island were ranked 131st in the World when the last European Championships was on. It would be fair to assume one does not think of football when they think of Iceland. They are competing in their first major international tournament. Their best known player and top goalscorer is former Barcelona and Chelsea man Eidur Gudjohnsen. The 38 year old sat on the bench last night as an unused substitute and could probably never dream that the events of last night could ever have happened. Another big player who Premier League fans might know is Gylfi Sigurðsson. The Swansea star has been an important part of the Icelandic team and scored the penalty in their 1-1 draw against Hungary in the group stage. Their players are scattered across various European leagues including the Swedish Allsvenskan, the Norwegian Tippeligaen as well as 2nd tier divisions in Germany and Italy.
Now ranked 31st they will look to the example set by Greece in 2004 or even Leicester City this season in the Premier League and hope to go even further in the tournament.
Iceland play France in the quarter-finals on the 3rd of July in Saint- Denis