The 2-1 loss to the minnows of Iceland will go down as one of the worst moments in England’s history. Playing in a finals tournament for the very first time, the Nordic side were functional and daring but to suggest they were anything more would be to excuse England’s sheer dismalness.
This was absolutely unforgivable. Yes, Iceland are here in the first place because they toppled the Netherlands and more recently held Portugal. But the Dutch have been going through a succession of internal revolutions of late, while Cristiano Ronaldo’s personal fortunes have been of greater relevance than Portugal’s Euro hopes for the majority of the tournament.
Individuals can be pointed at for various moments in the match. Joe Hart’s second vital error of the month followed Eric Dier’s decision not to close down Kolbeinn Sigthorsson as he took all the time he wanted to fire home his 18th-minute winner. Earlier, Kyle Walker had been left flat-footed by Ragnar Sigurdsson’s run into the six-yard box to equalise from Kari Arnason’s flick-on.
Further up the field there were leaden-footed performances from Dele Alli and Harry Kane that only helped to legitimise claims they were far too tired to partake in a tournament summer after a taxing season with Spurs. That said, they had just come off the back of shortened outings as part of six changes against Slovakia.
And Wayne Rooney kept playing the one cross-field pass that has persuaded everyone he can be a midfielder, but gave nothing more and often lost simple possession in dangerous areas. By the end of the game, even his long-range delivery was misfiring wildly.
England trudge home having won one game from four against Russia, Wales, Slovakia and Iceland. How has that been allowed to happen? Yes, they played well for the majority of their Group B, but since when was anything other than results important in international competition?
Roy Hodgson will say that this is a young group still going places, and while he might be right about the first part many of this squad are going nowhere quickly. Nobody showed even one-tenth of the appetite on display in blue shirts. Those with experience failed to use it to drive their team forward, while the youthful exuberance that was meant to be England’s biggest positive heading to France turned into fearful cowering.
Hodgson will surely be shown the door after this, with the team-play being as short of ideas, structure and direction as the individual performances were lacking in heart. His side made Iceland look like the sort of tournament-hardened force they are a long way from being in reality. There are few stand-out candidates to take his job, but there has to be an alternative to this.
His finals record since really stamping his authority on the team following Euro 2012 is played seven, won one. The group stage exit at the World Cup offered a chink of light at the end of the tunnel. This performance suggested the tunnel has been filled with concrete.
By the final quarter it had simply become inevitable that England would not get back into the game. The abject nature of their performance guaranteed failure in their comeback attempts. Fifty years on from the country’s greatest footballing moment, their World Cup win on home soil in 1966, comes arguably its worst.
Iceland’s fans were heard chanting to the tune of Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’ late in the second half, and over the past few days England has indeed been rocked to the very core in politics and football alike.
There has never been a low point like it.