England’s defeat to Iceland at the last-16 stage of the European Championships was nothing short of embarrassing. Not for the first time, or the last, the Three Lions failed to roar as Roy Hodgson’s spineless pack of overpaid individuals bowed out in France, adding another chip to England’s unworthy reputation within international football.
Outfought and uninspired, England showed no desire to make their mark. Millions wore the white jersey with pride on Monday evening, but because of the small handful that didn’t, it was removed with disappointment as humiliation was added to England’s long list of emotional honours.
The World Cup success in 1966 may be a highlight of hope within our home nation, but it’s a forgotten memory for the rest. Germany, who lost that day, have grown ever since, winning six major tournaments along the way. But for England, the aftermath has been littered with uncalculated optimism before frequent deliveries of memory-jogging failure.
The reappearing tip of England’s iceberg has been identified and measured on numerous occasions, but the thicker problems that lie beneath it, which don’t take centre stage on live television every two years, are what really need addressing.
Hodgson, who resigned from his role following the Iceland defeat, will move aside for England’s next torchbearer, ending a spell in charge that oozed potential but concluded with a devastating loss and a number of baffling decisions from England’s out-of-touch manager.
England, however, need far more than a managerial refurb to move in line with international football’s elite. England’s early exit from the 2014 World Cup in Rio was unpleasant, but easier to digest as Hodgson’s injection of youth had yet to kick in. But two years on, progress was essential.
Being sent to the canvas by a European featherweight, in the manner they were, was confirmation that England had reached an all-time low.
The early signs were there when Hodgson turned his back on England’s form men, the likes of Danny Drinkwater, who showed more passion in a single game for the Premier League champions, Leicester City, than England’s entire squad displayed on that miserable night in Nice.
Instead, England’s outgoing boss opted to stick, rather than twist, with the selection of household names such as Jack Wilshere, who lacked match practice, and Raheem Sterling, who scored only twice in 22 games at the back end of Manchester City’s below-par Premier League season.
With both Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy in the pack, England had the Premier League’s top two goalscorers, a domestic double that no other team could match. But did Hodgson strike fear into any of England’s four opponents by lining up with two of Europe’s sharpest shooters in attack, absolutely not. Not once were Kane and Vardy distributed together from the outset, as Hodgson downed England’s most influential tools.
Arguably England’s best player at the tournament, Eric Dier, was taken off at the break against Iceland, before the brightest spark, Marcus Rashford, was only given five minutes to make an impact when England were clearly in need of a footballing entrepreneur. Hodgson was fully equipped to make a difference, but chose to sit on the fence, and fell.
Hodgson chose a 4-3-3 formation, a setup that requires width and penetration in the final third, something England were unable to achieve with only one recognised winger in the side, Raheem Sterling, who choked on the big stage. Hodgson made brainless decisions in the backroom, and on the sideline, as he continued to look puzzled as England fell to pieces.
Take nothing away from Iceland, they came and, rightfully so, conquered. Their pre-game odds were overpriced and perhaps unfair, but offered a clear indication of England’s expected dominance. It was, however, not the result that was most disappointing, but the reluctance to step forward when the entire world was watching.