NICE — It has been 10 long years since England last won a knockout game at a major tournament.
On Monday evening in Nice, Roy Hodgson’s side take on plucky Iceland and England know they simply must win.
[ MORE: Iceland ready to upset English idols ]
No excuses this time. They have got to get to the semifinals, at least, to deem this tournament a success and on paper they are well capable of doing that.
Strolling around Nice on Sunday night before the game, England’s supporters crowded in huge groups outside bars singing “Don’t take me home” and hollering about how “Jamie Vardy‘s on fire, your defense is terrified!” in a reworking of the Will Grigg chant.
They aren’t ready to leave France but speaking to them, the same lingering doubts creep up in their mind. People joked and rolled their eyes about going out to Iceland.
However, some were optimistic: “Strange things happen in football. You just wonder, with us exiting the EU last week, could we go and win it this year? Who am I kidding, we will probably lose tomorrow!”
Ah, there it is. That wonderful glimmer of hope curtailed with a moment of self deprecation. England’s fans are getting very good at that.
Yet, this is the best squad of players England has had in a long time.
Yes, they struggled to score in the group stages with Wayne Rooney, Harry Kane and others misfiring. But they are creating chances and look dangerous in attack and solid in defense and Hodgson has been working with this group for four years. This is the tournament he will be judged on as his contracts expires following EURO 2016. If England lose on Monday, Hodgson will be out and a whole new era under yet another manager will begin.
[ MORE: Rooney not underestimating Iceland ]
They are on the tougher side of the bracket at EURO 2016 after finishing second in their group and if they get past Iceland they will face France at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis this Sunday. Then, if they get past France, they will face either Germany, Spain or Italy in the semifinal. England, as always, will have to do things the hard way but if they beat Iceland then seeing what France have put together so far in this tournament, the Three Lions should not be afraid of what the hosts have to offer.
England is equipped with the youngest average team at EURO 2016 and they should have no fear in letting their nation down.
Since David Beckham curled in a free kick in Stuttgart to beat Ecuador 1-0 in a Round of 16 game at the 2006 World Cup, England’s tournament record in the knockout rounds isn’t pretty. They lost to Portugal, on penalty kicks, in the 2006 World Cup quarterfinals. They didn’t even reach EURO 2008. They lost 4-1 to Germany in the Round of 16 at the 2010 World Cup. Then they were knocked out by Italy on penalty kicks in the quarterfinals of EURO 2012 and embarrassed at the 2014 World Cup as they didn’t make it out of the group.
We all know England’s one and only major trophy arrived during the 1966 World Cup they hosted but since then they’ve only reached two semifinals of a major tournament, losing both the 1990 World Cup semifinal and EURO 1996 semifinal to West Germany and Germany respectively… on penalty kicks. Of course.
Enough heartbreak, England. Now it is time to deliver.
No. 34 ranked Iceland, the darlings of EURO 2016, have excelled in their first-ever major tournament and aren’t ready to go home either. They will sit back, soak up the pressure and look to set pieces to find a way through. England is the heavy favorites and they know it. The pressure is mounting on Hodgson, his captain Wayne Rooney and others as the nation expects a comfortable win at the Stade de Nice.
With options in attack, Hodgson has to go for it. Jamie Vardy, Daniel Sturridge, Kane, Rooney, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford… the list goes on. England have to attack and bury Iceland early in the game.
It won’t be easy. Just like England’s other three games in the tournament so far, it will be tight and tense as opponents know just how fluid and dangerous they are in attack. Iceland won’t chase the game but England should.
What have they got to lose at this point? After years of underachievement, nothing.
As thousands of Englishmen wake up along the Promenade des Anglais in sunny Nice on Monday morning, they hope things will change. They hope they will see an England team grasp the moment and go for glory.
“You just get the sense were due to give someone a hiding” I overhead another England fan say at a a packed bar in central Nice. Given the chances they’ve created, and missed, so far, they certainly are due a glut of goals in this tournament.
Still, there will be plenty of worried faces as they chew on their croissants or top up their tans on the pebbly beach before the game. The kick off is 9 p.m. local time and they have all day to worry and fret about the outcome.
No matter what, England’s fans will continue to follow their team around the globe but now their team needs to give them a reason for optimism.
After decades of disappointment, England must deliver in a knockout game.