Euro 2016

Reviewing a game: Was England vs Iceland as bad as people said?

Author: Iain Macintosh

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Three weeks have passed now since Iceland beat England in Nice. But was it really as bad a performance as people suggested at the time? You know how hysterical people can be these days. Maybe England were just a bit unlucky? We asked Iain Macintosh to watch it again. For the sake of public decency, we will not repeat his initial response.

2 – I was in Nice for the England – Iceland game, but I was working and sometimes, when you’re working, you don’t see the game the same way as you might do at home. For starters, you’re often typing while you watch. You may not have access to replays. And on some occasions you miss bits of the game because you’re banging your head off the table in frustration. But you know what? England started quite well. It’s a bit raggedy, some of the players’ touches look a bit off, but there’s a real zip about them. They look like they want to get this finished early and then get to the pub before it shuts. Ah, the blissful ignorance. Daniel Sturridge, playing off the right wing, cuts inside and then drags his shot wide of the near post. This will go down as one of England’s better chances.

3 – But Sturridge does well moments later when he lifts the ball into the penalty area for Raheem Sterling. The Manchester City man seems to make a mess of it, allowing the ball to run too far, but the Icelandic goalkeeper Hannes Haldorsson helpfully wipes him out and concedes a penalty.

4 – Wayne Rooney drives the penalty home. England lead 1-0. Ah, look at them. They look so happy.

6 – That didn’t last very long. England were supposed to have prepared for those Icelandic throw-ins. Aron Gunnarsson tosses it in, Kari Arnason shrugs off Rooney and nods the ball up in the air, Ragnar Sigurdsson loses Kyle Walker and prods it in. It’s 1-1 and it really is that simple.

8 – England are gone. Already. All the zip has left them. They are as motionless as algae floating on the surface of a long forgotten pond on a hot, windless afternoon. They’re just standing there, hoping that no-one passes the ball to them. Iceland are pushing up, there’s barely 20 yards between the attack and the defence, and England just seem content to abdicate responsibility in front of them.

12 – Kyle Walker picks up the ball on the right, but instead of hurtling down the flank, he cuts inside to where the Iceland midfield is massed. Obviously, he loses the ball.

14 – Rooney receives the ball in a huge zone of space outside the area, but somehow manages to turn this opportunity into stalemate, trotting slowly out wide, accompanied by three Icelandic players.

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18 – And now, of course, it’s worse. A tremendous ball by Gunnarsson lands on the instep of Birkir Saevearsson who knocks it back first time to Johann Gudmundsson. He notices, as one might, that Iceland’s most creative and well known player, Gylfi Sigurdsson, is inexplicably unmarked on the edge of the box and he slips the ball through. Eric Dier and Dele Alli react like drunk men trying to catch dropped kebabs and the ball is moved on to Jon Bodvarsson who is granted enough time for a dodgy first touch and a quick pass to Kolbeinn Sigthorsson. The shot, such as it is, skids off the ground three times and still worms its way past Joe Hart. This is horrible and Hart agrees, punching himself in the head.

22 – England’s response is pitiful. At every turn, they seek the safest option, passing the ball backwards with no intention of taking the game to Iceland.

25 – England tire of playing safety passes and smash the ball ahead of Kyle Walker. It runs out of play before he can reach it. Then they do the same again.

28 – Finally, a bold and quick-witted attack from England. Sterling, Kane and Alli link up and then release Sturridge, his cross is sent to the back of the box and Kane’s powerful shot is just tipped over the bar. That was much better.

33 – England are pushing on now, but for all the possession, proper chances aren’t forthcoming. This is not a concern for Iceland, who go close when Ari Skulason spanks one just wide of Joe Hart’s post.

45 – And that’s half time. Yes, England are losing and yes, they have been unspeakably awful in places, and yes, there is a level of individual cowardice on display that brings the taste of vomit to the mouth, but…erm…I forget what my original point was.

46 – Jack Wilshere is on for Eric Dier. Gary Cahill plays him a simple pass. Wilshere allows it to roll underneath his foot. Fortunately, it ends up at the feet of Danny Rose.

47 – Rooney needlessly blasts a pass at Sturridge who fails to control it and then gets booked trying to rectify the situation.

52 – Rooney tries to play a five yard pass to Sturridge, but misses him by some distance and gives the ball away.

55 – From a corner, Iceland win two headers in the England box and then Ragnar Sigurdsson fires an overhead kick right down Hart’s throat. It should be 3-1 to Iceland.

61 – This is so much worse on a second viewing. Rooney may as well be wearing a pair of Crocs for all the control he has over the ball. A slow, three yard pass from Wilshere bounces off the top of his foot and straight to Arnason.

66 – England win a free kick about 35 yards out. Harry Kane runs up, attempts a Ronaldo-style up-and-down howitzer and succeeds only in spanking it well wide.

67 – Oh, I remember this bit. It’s when I started howling with laughter. Rooney runs at Sigurdsson, fakes left, fakes right and then jabs the ball into his ankles. Sweet mercy.

69 – I can’t keep writing that Rooney keeps giving the ball away. It’s going to look like bullying. But he does. He really does. They should set this match to circus music and then release it as a special DVD.

70 – Jamie Vardy is put through by Kane, but Sigurdsson launches into what might have been the best tackle of the tournament and the chance is gone.

74 – Oh God, I think I must have blanked most of this from my memory. Some kind of instinctive act of self-preservation. How can they be so bad? They earn so much money from playing football, why can’t they even control one when it rolls towards them?

83 – Argh! It’s not even funny now. Just make it stop! Make it stop!

87 – The Harry Kane free-kick. It’s like a piece of art. The more you look at it, the more you can see in it. In the name of all that is holy, how are they so bad at football? The darkness is descending. I need to get out of this office. I think I’m going to faint.

FT – It’s over. That was…horrible. I remember how we all walked around blank-faced in Nice, unable to comprehend what we’d just witnessed. There is a fear sometimes when you cover a game, an anxiety swirling inside you that you might have misread it, that you might have been too harsh, that you might have been subconsciously making it out to have been worse than it was because it makes for a better article. But if anything, I don’t think I was harsh enough. That wasn’t just bad, that was profoundly unsettling. I never want to watch that again. I never want to watch England again. Just leave me alone for a bit. Just get out. Leave me. Leave me alone.

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Iain Macintosh
Is a football writer for ESPNFC and the editor of  The Set Pieces