Iceland will be defiant Hodgson's win-or-go game

Roy Hodgson and Wayne Rooney at a training session last week. While the manager has "no regrets" about dropping Rooney against Slovakia, a loss to Iceland would end his time at the helm.
Roy Hodgson and Wayne Rooney at a training session last week. While the manager has "no regrets" about dropping Rooney against Slovakia, a loss to Iceland would end his time at the helm. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

ROUND OF 16

England v Iceland

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NICE • Lose today, or in the quarter-finals for that matter, and it will be Roy Hodgson's umbrella moment. His Baden-Baden. His resignation in the Wembley toilets. His panic phone call to Paul Scholes.

The England job can make strong men weak, the measured skittish, turn cautious planners into gamblers. Usually, when downfall comes, there is a motif.

Steve McClaren, Wally with the Brolly. Sven-Goran Eriksson, forever associated with WAG-filled hubris. Kevin Keegan left us that picture of him quitting in Wembley's bogs.

Fabio Capello's descent was most surprising of all. His call to Scholes to beg him to come out of retirement, gripped by doubt about his World Cup squad, will be a pivotal scene in the movie one day about how England turns managers mad.

And Hodgson? Will people come to frame the moment this sober man told his startled dressing room he had made the decision to rest Wayne Rooney for a vital tournament game?

Six unforced changes, including dropping Rooney, preceded Monday's 0-0 flop against Slovakia.

Football Association chief executive Martin Glenn denied that he had any problems with Hodgson's decisions. "He has our full support, he has been a great manager and we are going to do great things in this tournament," said Glenn.

Still, did the Slovakia stalemate matter that much?

It is sophistry to present it as anything other than a complete Horlicks: As a consequence, England are in what looks like the Champions League half of Euro 2016, compared to the Europa League other section.

Had England won Group B, the likely quarter-final opponents would have been dysfunctional, beatable Belgium.

Losing to Iceland, a country with more volcanoes than full-time professional players, would end the Hodgson era here and now - an immediate resigning matter.

Only repairing the damage, by coming through the now tough draw, will spare him the six changes, especially Rooney, forever being raked over.

He is defiant. "No regrets," he said. "That's life. I accept it. I'm not trying to gloss over it. But I can't be as facile as to say, 'Yeah, I wish now we'd played Wayne Rooney.' Because I don't know if we'd played Wayne Rooney (whether) the score would have been any different. It wasn't when he came on."

What Hodgson does accept is England "haven't had that killer instinct". They had the second-most goal attempts in the group stage but had only the 19th best percentage of efforts on target.

Iceland were nearly twice as efficient.

Hodgson's counterpart, Iceland's Lars Lagerback, was a young coach hanging off Hodgson's every word when they first met.

That was 40 years ago when Hodgson, as Halmstad manager, put on a session for regional Swedish coaches in Hudiksvall.

"Is it six tournaments with Sweden and now Iceland?" Hodgson said. "Any praise he's getting he more than deserves."

Praise died so quickly after that win over Wales.

And a defeat in Nice would almost certainly lead to Hodgson's contract not being extended, but although he has made no secret of his desire to continue in the role, he said he would not be shouting it from the rooftops.

"I am prepared to carry on. It is different to wanting it. I'm prepared to carry on if the FA want me to," he told reporters this week.

"If they don't want me to, then my contract will have run out and that is how that will be.

"So I'm not begging for the job."

THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2016, with the headline 'Iceland will be defiant Hodgson's win-or-go game'. Print Edition | Subscribe