Iceland beats England 2-1 in shock of Euro 2016
NICE, FRANCE >> Iceland pulled off one of the biggest shocks in European Championship history by beating England 2-1 in the round of 16 on Monday, continuing the astonishing run of the smallest nation at the tournament.
England slumped to its most embarrassing loss in a generation after taking the lead in the fourth minute through Wayne Rooney's penalty.
Ragnar Sigurdsson and Kolbeinn Sigthorsson took advantage of defensive shortcomings by England to put Iceland ahead by the 18th minute, and the Icelanders defended superbly in the second half to earn the biggest victory in their history and a quarterfinal match against France in Saint-Denis.
"They thought that this would be a walk in the park," Sigurdsson said. "We had faith in our ability."
Iceland, a country of 330,000 people, is featuring in its first ever major tournament.
It proved to the last match of the four-year reign of England coach Roy Hodgson, whose contract was up after the tournament anyway.
"Now is the time for someone else to oversee the progress of this young, hungry and extremely talented group of players," Hodgson said. "They have been fantastic."
The England fans who booed the team off at halftime and fulltime will likely have a different opinion.
England's players head home early again for another post-tournament inquest. Their players slumped to the ground in front of their jeering fans after the final whistle, their heads in their hands.
For a soccer nation of England's standing, its record in major tournaments is woeful. The English have still never won a knockout-stage game abroad in the European Championship in eight attempts and haven't won a match beyond the group stage of a major tournament since 2006.
This defeat will probably go down as England's biggest humiliation since losing 1-0 to the United States in 1950 World Cup.
Even more so since its team of Premier League stars took the lead on a balmy night at the Stade de Nice after winger Raheem Sterling — a contentious pick by Hodgson on the left wing — was clipped by goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson as he prodded the ball past him. Rooney converted the penalty into the bottom-left corner.
Iceland struck back immediately through Sigurdsson, volleying in at the far post after Kari Arnason's flick-on from a long throw. The long-throw routine has been aa feature of Iceland's play this tournament.
Sigthorsson then took advantage of more slack defending by England, getting time and space to shoot from just inside the area. Goalkeeper Joe Hart got a hand to the effort but the ball squirmed over the line.
Iceland was relatively untroubled in the second half as England's passing and touch deserted its players, with Rooney especially culpable. The catcalls from England supporters were at their loudest when Harry Kane miscontrolled a pass in the last minutes.
When the final whistle went, Iceland's squad and staff raced onto the field in pure joy to celebrate with the team. Iceland captain Aron Gunnarrsson, who plays for Cardiff in the second tier of English football, tore off his shirt off and ran over to fans, leading his teammates in dancing and singing.
In Iceland's capital, Reykjavik, an estimated 10,000 people watched the match on a giant screen downtown in daylight. Fireworks erupted and residents danced on their balconies.
The ease with which Iceland saw out the game was surprising. England finished the match with four strikers on the field but didn't seriously test Halldorsson.
Hodgson harbored hopes of staying on after Euro 2016. After this exit and England's group-stage elimination from the 2014 World Cup without winning a game, his legacy will be seriously tarnished.
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