The reactions from the English press, and most notably, EPSN’s English commentators were immediate and damning. England had just lost 2-1 and been eliminated from the quarterfinals of Euro 2016 by Iceland, a team appearing in its first major international soccer tournament.
Play-by-play commentator and ESPN pundit Ian Darke called it “arguably the worst night in England’s 144-year football history.” Ex-England player and current pundit, Gary Lineker also tweeted that it was “the worst defeat in our history.”
But not everyone was quite as shocked as the English media. Including this writer, who witnessed this Iceland team firsthand in a Euro qualifier in which they beat the Netherlands 2-0 in Amsterdam last fall.
The week prior, West Ham United manager Slaven Bilic warned England of the threat posed by Iceland in his weekly column at the Daily Mail.
“Iceland are not a great team but they have been doing well for two years. They were in a qualifying group which included Holland, the Czech Republic and Turkey – and beat all of them at home,” wrote Bilic.
England capitulating at the first sign of trouble at a major tournament is nothing new. We’ve seen it time and again over the past two decades. There’ve been countless attempts to explain it – lack of a winter break, having a foreign manager who doesn’t understand English football, needing a foreign manager to get England to play in a more continental style, the wives, the girlfriends, the press, etc.
Mostly it seems to boil down to a tendency on behalf of the England team and its fans to look far beyond the match at hand and to take a run into the latter stages of a tournament for granted.
But England’s psychological frailty as a football nation should not take away from the accomplishments of this Iceland team. Lars Lagerback has this team well organized and thus far, they’ve carried out his plans on the pitch to a T.
Having finished second behind the Czech Republic in a qualifying group that in addition to Turkey and the Netherlands, also included Kazakhstan and Latvia, Iceland have taken these Euros by storm.
They ruffled Cristiano Ronaldo’s feathers after holding Portugal to a 1-1 draw in their Euros opener. They then drew Hungary and defeated “dark horse” favorites Austria on an unbeaten run that has led them to Sunday’s encounter with hosts and favorites France.
There at the Stade de France this team whose biggest star, midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson, plays for a midtable Premier League outfit in Swansea City, will have the chance to prove that coming from behind to beat England was not quite as big a fluke as it’s been made out to be.
France do not appear to be taking the threat lightly.
Les Bleus defender Patrice Evra has said his teammates need to “wake up” before taking the field against Iceland. As Evra points out, France have required last-minute heroics in most of their matches at the Euros this summer.
It makes for dramatic viewing, yes, but it could cost France dearly against an Iceland team that’s yielded very little to the opposition in its progression to the quarters. Against Roy Hodgson’s Three Lions team, the Icelanders had a game plan that involved pinpointing England’s weaknesses and exploiting them. They carried it out almost flawlessly.
This France team has some obvious vulnerabilities of their own – the inability to put away chances, the pressure of playing at home, the seeming need to have their backs against the wall before coming to life.
If Didier Deschamps France team are indeed to do what’s expected of them and steal a march on the finals of Euro 2016, they will likely need to conjure the best performance we’ve seen from them in this tournament yet.
Otherwise Les Bleus could find themselves the latest big-name scalp to succumb to the team from Iceland, a nation of just 300,000, with an assistant coach who’s a part-time dentist. Having already gotten past several of the biggest names in European football to arrive at this stage of the tournament, Iceland have nothing to lose at this point. Which could make them even more dangerous.
[Watch France vs. Iceland in the Euro 2016 quarterfinals Sunday, July 3 at 3pm ET on ESPN.](https://www.sling.com].