Thursday, 23 June 2016
England v Iceland: five reasons for Roy Hodgson’s team to be wary
1 Heimir Hallgrimsson is a cool-headed coach
Iceland had not only just qualified for the knockout stage at their first major tournament but finished second in Group F after a Roy of the Rovers victory over Austria courtesy of a last-kick winner from Arnor Ingvi Traustason. Yet in came Hallgrimsson, who co-manages the team with the Swede Lars Lagerback, to offer a classy and calm appraisal of this breathless moment and to suggest the focus was already on facing England in Nice on Monday.
He spoke of the need for his players to rest before the trip to the French Riviera and warned that having handled the feverish Stade de France atmosphere they can draw on this when facing Roy Hodgson’s team.
Even when speaking of what the win over Austria meant to Iceland – the nation may have to change their national holiday from 17 June to 22 June, he offered – the 49-year-old did so in a matter-of-fact manner. There were also flashes of humour and the way he shrugged off Cristiano Ronaldo’s “small mentality” comment – it is “irrelevant”, Hallgrimsson said – illustrated there is no inferiority complex here.
2 They can pass and move. And counter attack
Ronaldo’s dismissal of Iceland derived from his view that they were a negative-first side during Portugal’s 1-1 draw with them. Yet the evidence of Wednesday’s display belied this. The fluid sequence that featured the ball bouncing from Birkir Bjarnason to Gylfi Sigurdsson to Johan Gudmundsson and which allowed the Charlton Athletic forward the space to fire a shot off Robert Almer’s right post moments after kick-off illustrated this.
This broke Austria open when they were set up to defend, with many players behind the ball. Yet Traustason’s winner came from the opposite kind of play: a lightning breakaway move. For this, the ball was taken by Theodor Elmar Bjarnason, who motored along the right before pinging over a precisely weighted pass for the strike from the 23-year-old.
3 Strength in depth
Iceland’s winner was created by two second-half substitutes in Bjarnason and Traustason, the former entering on 71 minutes, the latter after 80. Hodgson was in Paris on Wednesday but did not attend the game, preferring, apparently, a day of sightseeing. So when he watches the footage and reads scouting reports on Iceland, England’s manager should take note of how Hallgrimsson and Lagerback used all three replacements against Austria, with the defender Sverrir Ingi Ingason also brought on in the closing minutes to shore up the defence.
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Traustason is worth particular scrutiny for potentially possessing an X-factor as this is a footballer who did not make his international debut until after qualifying for the tournament yet who showed pace and adept positional sense to race virtually the pitch’s full length in the dying seconds to finish off Austria.
4 Connection with fans
Iceland has a population of 330,000 and around 10,000 of these were at the Stade de France: one in every 33, then, of the nation’s souls were in attendance. Kari Arnason, the official man of the match, highlighted this when talking of probably knowing “50%” of those cheering them on. Even in a sport renowned for fanatical fans this is a unique relationship and is surely one that puts several springs in the side’s step.
5 Facing England may inspire them
Never mind Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge, Joe Hart and the rest of a squad Hallgrimmson believes is packed with high-end footballers intimidating Iceland, facing England could elevate the nation. Jon Dadi Bodvarsson, scorer of the opener against Austria, reflected a feeling felt throughout the squad when he said: “England are the dream team for me, it’s the team I rooted for when I was young, watching the European Championship and the World Cup, so it will be fantastic to meet them.” The joy expressed here points to a freedom Iceland will play with against England. Monday promises to be a tough game for both sides.