Euro 2016

Euro 2016: English put hopes on ice

Rooney reveals his side will be prepared should they be placed on the spot in last 16

CHANTILLY • At the Stade des Bourgognes, England's training ground on the outskirts of Chantilly, there was an unmistakable hint of irritation in Roy Hodgson's voice.

His players were going through a training exercise featuring two sets of players in one penalty area.

On one side, the England manager was rotating groups of four or five attackers. On the other, outnumbered, defenders Gary Cahill and John Stones were trying to keep them out with Joe Hart in goal.

Hodgson did not sound too enamoured by the number of times the various attacking manoeuvres came to nothing.

"The quality at the moment has to be better than this," he could be heard shouting to his players.

It might have to be in Nice as well if the game against Iceland on Monday is not to take a place fairly high up on the list of England's more chastening experiences.

England manager Roy Hodgson instructing Jamie Vardy. The Three Lions hope to display a sharpness in front of goal that has been lacking, when they take on Iceland in the last 16.
England manager Roy Hodgson instructing Jamie Vardy. The Three Lions hope to display a sharpness in front of goal that has been lacking, when they take on Iceland in the last 16.PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES

England, to use captain Wayne Rooney's description, will be "overwhelming favourites" at the Allianz Riviera.

They will face the smallest nation in the tournament and are no doubt relieved to have avoided Portugal and a renascent Cristiano Ronaldo when Iceland, to put it one way, have a centre-half whose career incorporates spells at Plymouth Argyle and Rotherham United.

Not that England can be overly presumptuous when Iceland have gone through Group F unbeaten and won against the Netherlands, home and away, in qualifying.

"In the next couple of days, now we are in the knockout stages, I'm sure we will practise penalties a lot more," Rooney volunteered, returning to a familiar theme. "We've been practising them every day anyway but now we will start doing it as a group, like a match situation."

England, he pointed out, do not have a player in the current squad who has missed in a penalty shoot-out for the national side.

Ideally, they would like to spare themselves the ordeal.

Going into this game, questions have been asked why Hodgson chose not to attend the Iceland-Austria game, instead spending Wednesday in Paris sightseeing.

The manager, however, has described it as "laughable" to suggest it was an oversight on his part, bearing in mind he has access to extensive video footage.

The reports from his scouts have described Iceland as a "throwback", heavily reliant on long balls, defending in numbers and trying to capitalise on set pieces, knockdowns and long throws.

Iceland have reached this position despite their opponents having roughly two-thirds of the possession and England's players will be told to put pressure on the full-backs, Birkir Mar Saevarsson and Ari Freyr Skulason, both of whom are regarded as potentially vulnerable.

England's own full-backs, Kyle Walker and Danny Rose, will be urged to play as auxiliary wingers.

If everything goes according to plan, England will certainly have more challenging assignments to follow, with France potentially waiting in the quarter-finals.

The common suspicion is that England might ultimately regret finishing runners-up to Wales, but Rooney came up with an alternative argument. "If this was four years ago and you were saying we had to play France, Spain, Germany we would have been worried," he said. "But the gap isn't as big now and perhaps some of them aren't as good as they were."

THE GUARDIAN, THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2016, with the headline 'English put hopes on ice'. Print Edition | Subscribe