Iceland heroes leave England in turmoil

Nice (France) (AFP) – No one thought they stood a chance, but Iceland stuck to their guns and pulled off one of football’s biggest shocks, dumping England out of Euro 2016 and forcing their manager Roy Hodgson to quit in disgrace.

Ragnar Sigurdsson and Kolbeinn Sigthorsson claimed their place in sporting history with the goals that secured a 2-1 win on a hot, humid night in Nice for the smallest nation ever to play in a major tournament.

“They thought this would be a walk in the park,” said Sigurdsson of England’s attitude.

But Iceland, with a population of just 330,000, joyously claimed a quarter-final match against hosts France, just after Italy beat Spain 2-0 to set up a last eight clash with Germany.

The exit from the European Championship finals left fans of England — population 53 million and with the world’s wealthiest football league — reeling with a similar sense of desperation as the loosing “Remain” camp of Britain’s ‘Brexit’ referendum.

England’s players were stunned. Hodgson read out his resignation statement within minutes of the final whistle.

Iceland’s players celebrated in joyous disbelief with their 3,500 fans in the stadium.

Captain Aron Gunnarsson, who plays for Cardiff in the English league, said Iceland had been turned “upside down” by the win.

– Tame Lions –

“It’s just a proud moment and something we’ll treasure for the rest of our lives,” he said.

“We always believe. That’s our attitude.”

Wayne Rooney put England ahead from the penalty spot inside five minutes. But Sigurdsson equalised within 75 seconds and Sigthorsson shot Iceland ahead with a goal that embarrassed England goalkeeper Joe Hart.

England never showed any belief and Hodgson, 68, had to take responsibility.

“I’m extremely disappointed of course about tonight’s result and ultimately our exit from the competition. We haven’t progressed as far as I thought we were capable of, and that’s obviously not acceptable,” he said in his resignation statement.

“We are in the results business,” he added. “Now is the time for someone else to oversee the progress of this young, hungry and extremely talented group of players.”

England’s performance ranks alongside some of the most dismal at major tournaments. England already feature on the list of shame with their 1-0 defeat to an amateur United States side at the 1950 World Cup.

England, ranked 11th in the world, were left cursing by Hart’s blunder that led to Iceland’s second goal as Sigthorsson’s tame shot could easily have been stopped.

“We will get a lot of flak and we deserve it,” Hart said.

“We will learn from this and try and bring English football back to where it belongs. We have put it in a low place.

“The next manager has a tough job on his hands. We worked hard but with no success. That is how this team will be remembered.”

Hart was by no means the only one to blame for the defeat to the world 34th-ranked Icelanders however.

“It’s embarrassing for us,” admitted England captain Rooney.

“We know we’re a better team. We’re the ones on the pitch. You can’t just say it’s Roy Hodgson’s fault or one player’s fault. We’re all in it together so we all have to share that responsibility.”

The English Football Association quickly said it was “disappointed” by the defeat.

“We back Roy Hodgson’s decision to step down as England manager and will discuss next steps imminently,” the FA said in a statement.  

Former England captain Gary Linker called the result “the worst defeat in our history”. He added on Twitter: “England beaten by a country with more volcanoes than professional footballers. Well played Iceland.”

– Del Bosque faces questions –

Earlier, Italy dumped defending champions Spain out of the contest. Their 2-0 triumph ended a 22-year run without a win over their rivals. They face world champions Germany on Saturday in Bordeaux. 

Spain’s coach Vicente del Bosque was also forced to fend off questions about his future after watching Giorgio Chiellini and Graziano Pelle goals sink his side and take revenge for their 4-0 hammering by Spain in the Euro 2012 final. 

Chiellini forced home the first goal from close range after goalkeeper David de Gea could only parry Eder’s fiercely struck free-kick. Pelle volleyed in a deflected cross in injury time.

“It has been and is a great era for Spanish football,” said del Bosque defiantly.

“We have Italy ahead of us for the World Cup qualifiers in Russia and we have to prepare for that,” he added.

“I don’t think an era has ended. Spanish football is very well structured — there are good academies, very good players and very good clubs.”

Italy manager Antonio Conte said team work and a united spirit had inspired their win.

“Right from the outset since I took over I have said that the only route forward to achieve a semblance of success is to try and be a like a club team,” said Conte, who will take over Chelsea at the end of the tournament. “We have to be a collective.”

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