England agonise after Iceland Euro 2016 fiasco

Paris (AFP) – England on Tuesday surveyed the wreckage of their humiliating Euro 2016 exit as now former coach Roy Hodgson agonised over a defeat that added to the nation’s sense of post-Brexit turmoil.

Iceland, the smallest nation ever to play in a major tournament, erupted in celebration after sending England crashing out with a 2-1 win on Monday that ranks among football’s biggest ever shocks.

The defeat left English football at a low point and Hodgson, in a highly awkward press conference, struggled to explain how his team of Premier League stars had collapsed.

“I didn’t see the defeat coming,” Hodgson said. 

“I didn’t see, and neither did the players, the sort of performance we gave last night that saw us knocked out.”

Adding to the sense of huge embarrassment around the England camp, Hodgson, 68, who had resigned after the match, told the press conference: “I don’t really know what I’m doing here.”

Captain Wayne Rooney meanwhile insisted that reports the senior players had lost faith in the outgoing manager were “completely untrue”.

Asked about the claims, Hodgson said: “If it was true then they disguised it well from me and the coaching staff.

“We had no indication from the players that they were anything but behind what we were doing, behind the game plans that we had.”

Rooney gave a full-strength England the perfect start with a fourth minute penalty, but Hodgson’s men rapidly ran out of ideas against a nation ranked 34th in the world.

Ragnar Sigurdsson and Kolbeinn Sigthorsson claimed their place in sporting history with the goals for Iceland.

The Times newspaper said England had been “utterly clueless”. 

Goalkeeper Joe Hart, who let the second Iceland goal squirm under his fingers, said the humiliation had left English football “in a low place”.

“We will get a lot of flak and we deserve it,” said the Manchester City stopper.

Former England striker Alan Shearer said it was “the worst performance I have seen from an England team”.

England Under-21 coach Gareth Southgate was the early favourite to replace Hodgson.

But Southgate comes with baggage on the international stage — as a player he missed the crucial spot kick against Germany when England last reached the semi-finals of a major tournament at Euro ’96.

– Biggest humiliation –

English Football Association chief executive Martin Glenn paid tribute to Hodgson at the tense press conference, but said it was time for England to analyse “the lack of performance at the business end of tournaments over a period of time”.

The Daily Mail compared the Iceland defeat to England’s 1-0 loss to a part-time United States side at the 1950 World Cup in Brazil and to the British referendum vote last week to leave the European Union.

“A lot of people in England have been trying to turn back time over the last few days -– and Roy Hodgson managed to get it all the way back to Belo Horizonte in 1950,” mused the Mail.

“Not since a distant World Cup, 66 years ago, have England suffered a humiliation as great as this.”

– Welsh joy –

England’s neighbours in the United Kingdom also enjoyed their discomfort — an online video showed Wales’ players celebrating wildly. Unlike England, Wales, spearheaded by Real Madrid star Gareth Bale, can look forward to a quarter-final against Belgium on Friday.

Iceland meanwhile were celebrating pulling off one of the biggest shocks in football history and have a date with host nation France on Sunday after reaching the last eight in their first ever participation in the Euros.

Captain Aron Gunnarsson, who plays for Cardiff in the English league, said the country of 330,000 people had been turned “upside down”.

Icelandic commentator Gudmundur Benediktsson, whose screaming disbelief went viral after Iceland defeated Austria last week, again went ballistic at the end of Monday’s match.

“This is over! Never wake me up! Never wake me up from this crazy dream! Iceland… is going to Stade de France… on Sunday!”

The tournament now looks forward to the first last-eight match between Poland and Portugal in Marseille on Thursday.

Portuguese winger Nani, who took up the slack when superstar Cristiano Ronaldo was off-key at the start of the tournament, dismissed suggestions that his team were playing the brand of defensive football that handed Greece the European title in 2004.

“I do not see it like that. We’ve played four games and Portugal cannot be compared to Greece,” Nani said.

“We have an objective which is to win the title and we will do everything to achieve it.”

In the most attractive-looking quarter-final, Italy face Germany in Bordeaux on Saturday.

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