The 8th and final tie of the knock-out stage took place at the Allianz Riviera Stadium in Nice, where England and Iceland squared off in a winner takes all duel. England qualified for the tie by woefully finishing 2nd to their neighbours Wales while the surprise package of the tournament Iceland finished 2nd in Group F with 5 points, unbeaten and above Cristiano Ronaldo. The following result would send shockwaves throughout the world of football, but despite the shock, many England fans were almost expecting to be disappointed come 90 minutes. Once again England produced an abject performance at a major tournament where the promise and hope conjured during the qualifying stage was emphatically erased. England fell to two quick-fire goals that came after England took the lead through a Wayne Rooney penalty, which was the beginning of the end.
"As the looming possibility of an embarrassing defeat dawned upon the English public, the England players responded by producing one of the most hopeless and uninspiring second half performances of all time."
Iceland Tactical Context"We win on unity and hard work and organisation."
Co-managers Lars Lagerbäck and Heimir Hallgrímsson have laid down the foundations of their philosophy on discipline, focus and work ethic, they recognise that what they lack in star quality they make up for in unity. The co-managers have an interesting dynamic as Lagerbäck brings experience and tactical understanding to the table from his nine years as Sweden head coach while Hallgrímsson provides local knowledge in the context of Iceland.
|Iceland defending in a narrow 4-4-2.|
|Iceland counter-attacking in a 4-3-3.|
England Tactical ContextThroughout the qualifying stages, the public watched as Hodgson experimented and tampered with the England team to find his optimum set up, which many would say he still hasn't. Hodgson has used an array of formations ranging from a 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-4-2 diamond. England have at times lined up in a 4-4-2 diamond but defended in a 4-3-3 with a wide forward (either Ox, Sterling or Walcott) pushing up to the press the opposition, meaning that a quick turnover in play can create an overload in the wide areas.
|England attacking in a wide 4-3-3 after winning the ball back.|
England: (4-3-3): Hart, Walker, Cahill, Smalling, Rose, Alli, Dier, Rooney, Sturridge, Sterling, Kane
Iceland: (4-4-2): Halldórsson, Sævarsson, Árnason, Sigurðsson, Skúlason, Guðmundsson, Gunnarsson, Sigurðsson, Bjarnason, Sigþórsson, Böðvarsson.
England lined up in a 4-3-3 with the main talking point being the inclusion of Raheem Sterling, who had underperformed in the group stages, he occupied the left flank. As expected Iceland lined up unchanged in their 4-4-2 formation aiming to pack the midfield and defend in two banks of four.
Iceland's resolute organisationAs stated earlier, Iceland prefer to set up in a rigid 4-4-2, taking football back to basics and allowing for better team cohesion. The team set up to frustrate England by denying them of space to pass in and denying them of time on the ball. All players from the front to the back contributed to the defensive system. As soon as they won the ball back, they would counter quickly and progress through the acres of vacated space left by England's porous midfield 3.
|Kane coming deep to receive the ball|
Attacking wise Iceland's two strikers Sigþórsson and Böðvarsson provided England's defence with all kinds of trouble on the counter, the two made sure that they positioned themselves in between the respective CBs, as can be seen for the second goal. Martin Keown recently stated on live TV that he believed modern day defenders don't know to defend against two upfront anymore due to their lack of experience against the formation. Iceland playing two upfront meant they could assign each striker to occupy a CB of their choice thus allowing the wide midfielders to expose space left by Walker & Rose, creating a 3v2 or 4v2 situation. Guðmundsson and Bjarnason got forward quickly on the wings and overloaded the England defence who didn't know whether to go man-to-man with the Iceland attackers or defend the space instead.
|Iceland's front two positioned in between England's CBs.|
1st half: England's lack of cohesive playEngland struggled to manoeuvre the ball around Iceland's rigid structure. Iceland blocked off the passing lanes to the England's forwards forcing Kane to come deep and Sturridge & Sterling to move in centrally. Roy's cry for width before the game to stretch the Icelandic defence was in vain as the forwards were forced out of their positions, while Walker and Rose only rarely found themselves in behind Iceland's full-backs. Iceland relished the fact that England's wingers were not able to have one-on-one moments with their full-backs and were comfortable in watching play take place in front of them.
|Sturridge forced to drift in centrally|
|Distance between Dier and his midfield partners.|
The only ways to break down a deep-lying low block defence is to either increase the tempo of passing to try and draw the defenders out of their rigid positioning or be more incisive and direct through running at the defence or using route one tactics. England did neither. Sterling was the only player who showed glimpses of penetration and made a few runs in behind, one leading to England's penalty.
2nd half: Clueless England on the ball, caved under pressure?As the looming possibility of an embarrassing defeat dawned upon the English public, the England players responded by producing one of the most hopeless and uninspiring second half performances of all time. The England players laboured around the pitch with no sense of direction and no sense of urgency. Their tempo of passing was slow, dejected and painful to watch as you could see the cogs slowly turning in the player's minds as they struggled to find gaps in the Iceland defence. There was no structure to their attacks, no fluidity, no innovation and minimal tactical awareness.
The established Premier League stars all of a sudden became incapable of controlling the ball and could not cohesively put together a string of passes. Even with the introduction of Jack Wilshere at half time for Eric Dier, the needed penetration and incisive play still did not follow. They had aimless possession across the back four best shown by the fact that Gary Cahill had the highest pass completion rate of the team with 92%.
Hodgson persisted with the 4-3-3 even when he brought on Vardy for Sterling where many thought he would switch to the diamond but for some reason he stuck the Leicester City striker on the wing where he looked uncomfortable and contributed to England's ineffectiveness. The game ended with England effectively playing 3-2-5 with Cahill joining the front 4, England looked desperate and lacked ideas while Iceland finished the game in a comfortable fashion.
Concluding ThoughtsTaking nothing away from Iceland, but on paper, this was meant to be a mismatch with the calibre of individuals England possessed. Iceland have reinforced the narrative that football is a team game and the overall system overrides individual ability. Atletico and Leicester also showed that the overall defensive unit of the team can hide flaws of individual players, co-operation is the key. Iceland as a team are organised, united and have a wide variety of contributing goal scorers.
|Image: Sports - Inquirer|
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