Heartbreak is something most people only experience once or twice in a lifetime, but if you’re English and a football fan, this usually comes every two years at international tournaments. Last night was no exception. After a rocky but promising group stage campaign, English fans were delighted at the prospect of playing Iceland in the last 16; a country with no domestic league and a population the same size as the city of Leicester. The English media and pundits fuelled our hope by already discussing the fact that, should we go through (which was inevitable, right?) we would be facing the hosts, France, in Paris next week.
I can’t deny that my excitement was dented before kick off by the news that Raheem Sterling had been put back into the starting line-up, but faith was maintained with the return of Walker and Rose to solidify the defence as well as provide options for our attacking play. Seeing the players belt out the national anthem filled us all with a patriotism which is only truly ever seen when our pride is on the line, as it was then.
As it would turn out, England were given a precious 3 minutes of jubilation when Rooney’s penalty gave us the lead, but we were immediately brought back to reality when Iceland equalised thanks to a great finish by Sigurdsson on the end of a throw-in. None of us had been given the chance to celebrate the lead before it was snatched away as a result of extremely poor defending taken advantage of. Unsurprisingly, we had to watch the rest of the half played in a state of desperation with no tactical or moral support from Hodgson, as had been the theme of so many international campaigns previous. 12 minutes after conceding, England were punished for their complacency yet again, as a weak shot by Sigthórsson somehow proved too difficult for Hart to save, and gave Iceland the lead. Less than 20 minutes in and our fire had already been put out.
Throughout the entire second half, every England fan was united in their pleading for another striker, and our prayers were only answered in the 60th minute when Sterling was replaced for Vardy. Hodgson seemed to think that his job was done, only bringing on Rashford when it was clearly much too late. It should be said that in his five minute appearance, Rashford dribbled past three Icelandic players, more than any other England player in the entire game. This in itself should summarise our shambolic performance.
Iceland deserved to win the game purely because they played as if they wanted to win. England’s desire only kicked in when we were chasing the game. Hodgson rightly resigned as England manager immediately after the final whistle, as many had been calling for him to do years ago. He was an outdated manager who did not understand his players nor the tactical options they could thrive with, and proved yet again that he was not the man for the job. In his press conference this evening, he had the nerve to tell the press he “did not really know” why he even had to be present – a man not accountable for his failure is not a man fit to lead our team.
Our shocking defeat must not take away the brilliance of the Icelandic side, and I wish them all the best in their progression of the tournament. Teams who play with passion and hunger deserve success; Leicester City are another example of this. England deserved nothing, and even if we had scraped a win in the end, our national anxiety would have also progressed to the game against France. As I’m sure your Twitter feed told you, a country who crashes out of Europe twice in one week is a country in turmoil.
The passion had been weak at best and ended non-existent. Yet again, England had succumbed to the pressure of the big stage and the dreams of a nation. Come the World Cup 2018, England will have a new manager and hopefully better focus – but for now, England fans will have to resort to the exhausted hope of “there’s always next time”.