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Nations League Group 2

Iceland 0:1 England (Sterling pen 90+1). 

Sent off: Walker, 70’’, Ingason, 89’’ 

Hello you. It’s been a while.

England played a football match this evening – their first in ten months.

The international game came back with an ear-splitting bang – although only metaphorically. Other than the thud of boot on ball, and the occasional Eric Dier bawl, the Laugardalsvöllurstadium in Reykjavik was largely silent. And for 89 minutes, both teams delivered a suitably muted encounter. That was until two red cards and two late, late penalties delivered the kind of pulsating drama which has become par for the course in the Nations League

Nation's League Match Report: Iceland 0:1 England

England have fond memories of this competition, but not the opposition. There was to be no Icelandic thunderclap tonight, none of the guttural din which greeted the nation’s victory over England on that star-crossed night in the summer of 2016. Apart from anything, the absence of crowd noise revealed that, no matter how good they are with their feet, not one member of this England team had a decent set of pipes on them. A droning, lifeless rendition of God Save the Queen was followed by a similarly sedate display from the Three Lions.

While England’s passing was relatively sharp in the first half, and one or two occasions a heart-in-mouth play out from the back almost mutated into a goalscoring chance, in front of goal this was not the performance of a blood-starved team. On more than one occasion, a man in white fluffed his lines when a chance presented itself – Declan Rice’s air shot after 20 minutes was the prime example. Mind you – had VAR in been in place tonight, this could have been a very different game. Harry Kane prodded the ball in at the far-post from Raheem Sterling’s cross after just six minutes but was wrongly pulled back for offside.

With the scores still level, Iceland maintained their low block. There were plenty of five-yard passes, plenty of little twists and feints, but England were unable to find a window of opportunity to slip through. And as the game grew older, Iceland fell further and further back. They had the occasional opening on the break, but any footsteps in the opposition half were washed away by wave after wave of England attack.

Nation's League Match Report: Iceland 0:1 England

Iceland is the proverbial “tough place to go and get a result,” and It quickly became apparent that if the opposition were to have any joy, it would come from either a set-piece or the death-dealing weapon of war that is an Aron Gunnarsson long throw. He lined one up on 30 minutes, a sight enough to bring back bed-wetting nightmares for anyone who watched this same fixture four years ago. But it came to nothing. This Iceland team did not possess the same rugged beauty as its predecessor. They looked like any other small international side, content to drop deep and do everything they could to close the talent gap.

Nation's League Match Report: Iceland 0:1 England

It takes a certain type of player to melt away this kind of obstinance, a player like Phil Foden. The young Manchester City gunslinger was brought into the side to play between the lines, to create an angle, to provide that fizzle and pop, but was quiet on his England debut.

With 20 minutes to go, the lifeless match received a shot of adrenaline. Kyle Walker received a second yellow after lunging for, and missing, a loose ball. Gareth Southgate might tentatively have hoped that going down to ten would tempt Iceland out of their shell, but such a situation did not come to pass.

After trying to squeeze through gaps in the Icelandic defence for three-quarters of the match, England sent on Trent Alexander-Arnold with a quarter of an hour to go in the hope of twisting a few more crosses into the area. It wasn’t quite an abandoning of principles from Southgate, but it was emblematic of the fact that England’s strategy was bearing no fruit.

Just as the match looked to be petering out, England won a corner. The delivery went in, a shot was unleashed, an arm was struck. Penalty England. Raheem Sterling calmly despatched and that looked to be that. They had successfully cashed in their get out of jail free card.

But seconds later, with England thinking the game was won, Iceland were awarded a penalty of their own. Joe Gomez tangled with the Icelandic forward, bringing him to the floor. Fortunately, the disaster was abated as Birkir Bjarnason floated the ball into the non-existent fans behind the goal. A bizarre penalty and a huge let-off for England. 

Iceland

  • 1 Halldórsson
  • 2 Hermannsson
  • 14 Árnason
  • 5 Ingason Booked at 89 mins
  • 18 Magnússon
  • 15 Thorsteinsson Substituted for Sigurdsson at 66’minutes
  • 8 Bjarnason
  • 4 Pálsson
  • 21 Traustason Substituted for Hallfredsson at 76’minutes
  • 11 Gudmundsson
  • 22 Bödvarsson Substituted for Fridjónsson at 90+1’minutes

Substitutes

  • 3 Fjóluson
  • 6 Eyjólfsson
  • 7 Fridjónsson
  • 10 Sigurdsson
  • 12 Kristinsson
  • 13 Rúnarsson
  • 16 Anderson
  • 17 Fridjónsson
  • 19 Baldursson
  • 20 Hallfredsson
  • 23 AF Skúlason

England

  • 1 Pickford
  • 2 Walker Booked at 70 mins
  • 5 Gomez Booked at 90 mins
  • 6 Dier
  • 3 Trippier
  • 4 Rice
  • 9 Sancho Substituted for Alexander-Arnold at 73’minutes
  • 8 Ward-Prowse
  • 11 Foden Substituted for Ings at 68’minutes
  • 7 Sterling
  • 10 Kane Substituted for Greenwood at 78’minutes

Substitutes

  • 12 Alexander-Arnold
  • 13 Pope
  • 14 Mings
  • 15 Keane
  • 16 Grealish
  • 17 Mount
  • 18 Maitland-Niles
  • 19 Coady
  • 20 Phillips
  • 21 Ings
  • 22 Henderson
  • 23 Greenwood

Referee: Srdjan Jovanovic