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Three things we learned from Iceland’s incredible win vs. England

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NICE — Iceland beat England 2-1 at the Stade de Nice on Monday as the greatest moment in their soccer history arrived.

[ MORE: England in ruins after exit ]

The Three Lions were the victims of one of the most incredible upsets in European Championship history and they didn’t deserve to advance.

[ MORE: Iceland “shocked the world”

The smallest nation to ever compete in the Euros has made it the quarterfinals.

Here’s what we learned from a dramatic, historical night in Nice.


HART, ROONEY COST ENGLAND

England’s two most experienced players on the pitch let them down badly. Yes, captain Wayne Rooney scored a penalty kick after five minutes but that’s all he did. His touch was heavy, he overplayed, gave away possession and England’s captain and talisman had a woeful game which summed up the performance of his team. He was subbed out with 2 minutes to go for teenager Marcus Rashford and was jeered off the pitch.

Plus, yet again in a major tournament a goalkeeping error led to England’s downfall. In 2002 it was David Seaman who misjudged Ronaldinho’s cross. In 2010 it was Robert Green who somehow let Clint Dempsey‘s daisy-cutter dribble through him and into the net.

Now, Hart’s mistake may not have been quite as bad as those but its impact was catastrophic. In the 18th minute Kolbeinn Sigthorsson sent a tame effort towards the bottom corner. It went through Hart’s grasp and in. There wasn’t much pace on the effort and the Manchester City goalkeeper knew he’d dropped a clanger. Hart, for the first time in a long time, has held off strong competition to keep his starting spot as England’s first-choice goalkeeper. This won’t help him in the long term. He, alongside Rooney, will be blamed most for England’s exit.


ICELAND DESERVE GREATEST MOMENT

“We are going in with a mindset that we are going to win the game. I think it is the perfect time for Iceland not to upset because we have a good team with self confidence, it is the best time ever to beat England at a big tournament. We are going in it tomorrow to win it.”

Those were the words of one Iceland fan on the eve of the biggest game in their history. It echoed the views of the fans, staff and players. Iceland may be the biggest underdog story in the history of the Euros but they are in the quarterfinals and deservedly so.

In the qualifying stages they finished above Holland, Turkey and the Czech Republic. They finished ahead of Portugal in Group F and the incredibly well-organized side — a penchant of their Swedish coach Lars Lagerback — drag themselves in front after going behind in the fifth minute. Sure, there was a touch of fortune about their second but as soon as they went ahead they sat back, soaked up the pressure and frustrated England.

They had a game plan and all 11 players believed it would work. All 320,000 Icelandic citizens believed and a statement from their joint manager Heimer Hallgrimsson summed it up beautifully before the game began.

“If we beat England their lives will change, and all of our lives will change, significantly. Icelandic football will go up in reputation and the way we approach football will be different. It’ll look different for us.”

They did beat England and the greatest moment in Icelandic soccer history arrived.

Their fans were incredible in the Stade de Nice with their rhythmic chants spurring their players on. There will be scenes like never before in Reykjavik. In the land of the Midnight Sun, they won’t stop partying until it goes dark as they face France in the quarterfinals in Paris this Sunday.


MESSY END FOR HODGSON

Roy Hodgson’s side let him down badly and now he will pay the ultimate price. Hodgson, 68, only had a contract as England manager until the end of EURO 2016. Now that is over, he knows his time as England’s boss is over.

UPDATE: He announced his resignation minutes after England lost to Iceland.

Strolling around the Promenade des Anglais and mixing with fans on the day of the game, Hodgson looked calm and relaxed. By the end of the day he was looking hot under the collar as he stood on the steamy sideline in Nice.

This is where it ends.

Even though Hodgson’s four years in charge have offered plenty of moments of hope, his legacy will be one of underachievement and disappointment. He tried to rebuild England into a team full of young, dynamic atrack-minded players. They didn’t show up when it mattered most.

NICE, FRANCE - JUNE 27: Roy Hodgson manager of England looks on prior to the UEFA EURO 2016 round of 16 match between England and Iceland at Allianz Riviera Stadium on June 27, 2016 in Nice, France. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
(Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)

England haven’t won a knockout game in 10 years at a major tournament and that unwanted stat will now be extended to 12. Hodgson won’t be in charge in Russia at the 2018 World Cup, if England gets there. There are no outstanding contenders to replace him and that leaves England in a real mess. This crop promised so much, especially in attack, but they’ve floundered once again in a major tournament. It is an all too familiar sight for England’s fans.

Hodgson’s side made too many basic defensive errors. Aron Gunnarrsson has a long throw. England pinpointed that long throw as a major strength for Iceland. So, of course Iceland scores from their first long throw of the game, just 60 seconds after Rooney had put them ahead. Rooney lost the initial flick on to Gylfi Sigurdsson and Kyle Walker lost Ragnar Sigurdsson after the flick. Then came Hart’s howler and here we are.

This has to go down as the biggest embarrassment in English soccer history since they lost to the USA at the 1950 World Cup. England have now played 20 knockout ties in major competitions since they won the World Cup in 1966. They’ve won just six of those.

There have been plenty of defeats and penalty shootout heartbreak along the way but this was difference. This was a team which was outfought and went home with a whimper.

Petr Cech earns win with 2 penalty saves in hockey debut

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Former Chelsea and Arsenal goalkeeper joined English fourth-division hockey team Guildford Phoenix four days ago and made his debut on Sunday.

He did not disappoint.

The 37-year-old saved two penalties in the shootout, earning Man of the Match honors.

Cech is reportedly a fan of the Guilford Flames, the first-division side who use the Phoenix as their developmental side. He was signed to be the team’s third-choice goalkeeper, just a chance for him to get in on the action before his body gives way for good, but he was given a chance to play right away. He wore number 39, a nod to famous Czech goaltender Dominik Hasek. His custom helmet was adorned with Arsenal and Chelsea colors. Regulation finished level at 2-2 before Cech’s shootout heroics.

“I wanted to win, that was the main thing, and I’m glad we did,” Cech said after the match. “I was surprised that I wasn’t more nervous. I didn’t know what to expect so it was nice how quickly my body switched into matchday mode.”

Giroud upset with reserve role at Chelsea

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Olivier Giroud does not look back on his transfer to Chelsea and wish he had done things differently, but that doesn’t mean things are all sunshine and roses for the 33-year-old.

Giroud, who moved to Chelsea from Arsenal in the winter of 2018 after six years with the Gunners, has played just 43 times in the Premier League, averaging just 35 minutes per appearance. That has him frustrated, hoping to prove his loyalty to the club and work harder than the other options up front.

“I had competitors in attack – [Alvaro] Morata, [Gonzalo] Higuain, who ended up leaving,” Giroud said. “I won at the end: I played the final of the FA Cup in 2018 and the [Europa League] final in 2019. Once again, I’m starting the year in a difficult situation. But as my brother says, I have always built myself in the face of adversity.”

Giroud is trying to be smart about how he approaches the competition for time with the likes of Tammy Abraham and Michy Batshuayi, but he says it is emotionally taxing.

“You do not have to be fatalistic in certain situations,” Giroud says about keeping a level head. “I have always been respectful and humble. Even if I do not agree with the coach, I do not criticize him. But in myself, I cannot accept it because I know what I’m worth on a pitch.”

The French international has made just three league appearances this season, mostly thanks to Abraham’s scalding form. Abraham, still just 22 years old, has snatched his opportunity for first-team minutes with eight goals in eight games to start the campaign. That has left Giroud on the sidelines for each of the last five league games, missing out on a spot in the matchday squad altogether for the last three.

Despite his struggles at the club level, Giroud has maintained his place in the French national team, missing just five matches of France’s last 64 games, including 37 of the last 39.

James says he was not knocked unconscious in Wales draw

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Head injury awareness again rose to the forefront in the 1-1 draw between Wales and Croatia in Cardiff when Daniel James went down after colliding with a pair of opponents.

The Manchester United winger looked to almost sure have been knocked unconscious when Domagoj Vida’s knee appeared to tap the back of his head while challenging for a ball in the air. Vida went toppling over the back of teammate Borna Barisic who ducked out of the way, but it was James who many were concerned for as he lay motionless on his back with his eyes closed.

Yet James was allowed to come back onto the field and completed the full 90 minutes, sparking criticism from injury advocates and fans who were concerned for James’ safety on the field, at potential risk for even more serious consequences should he indeed have suffered a concussion.

After the game however, despite what fans saw as James lie on the turf, the 21-year-old insisted he was not knocked unconscious. “I’m fine,” James claimed after the match, speaking to Sky Sports. “I think he just caught me in the head but I didn’t get knocked out fortunately.”

Wales boss Ryan Giggs backed up the decision as well, calling James’ motionless display “a bit of acting.”

“The medical staff went over, he was compos mentis and we did all the checks at half-time and he was fine,” Giggs said, referring to the latin phrase for “of sound mind.”

If James was indeed faking unconsciousness, it’s natural to wonder if he should face a fine from UEFA for looking to con referees, and in the process possibly confusing the independent neurologists on site assigned to assess head injuries.

ESPN broadcaster Taylor Twellman, who has been outspoken over the past few years advocating for head injury awareness after his career was cut short by concussions, took to Twitter to criticize Wales for allowing James back into the game. Twellman, who was on the ESPN call of the broadcast with Ian Darke, said more needs to be done to prevent players from being able to force their way back onto the field, lest someone be killed by second impact syndrome.

Former Hull City player Ryan Mason, who was forced to retire after a serious skull fracture saw him fighting for his life, was also seriously concerned about the incident.

Interestingly enough, later in the match just seconds after the second half restart, young Wales midfielder Ethan Ampadu was whalloped from behind by Croatia’s Bruno Petkovic in a wild and reckless aerial challenge. Petkovic’s elbow went clattering into the back of Ampadu’s head, and the was left writhing on the ground holding his head. The Chelsea youngster was taken off the field and immediately replaced by Joe Morrell, while Petkovic was lucky to escape with just a yellow card.

Kane reflects on Tottenham, England struggles

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Harry Kane keeps finding the back of the net, but his teams keep losing.

The 26-year-old striker has bagged five Premier League goals in eight games for Spurs thus far, plus another seven goals for England in five Euro 2020 qualifiers this cycle. Yet Tottenham sits ninth in the table after three losses already this season, while England slumped to its first Euro defeat last time out, putting its seeding at the Euro finals next summer in jeopardy.

Kane is hoping to be a leader through the tough times for both club and country, wearing the armband for both as it currently stands.

“I think you need to lead by example,” Kane said ahead of England’s visit to Bulgaria on Monday. “Not getting too down when you lose a game, not getting too high when you win games. It is a long, old season for club and country ahead – a lot of games to be played so there are going to be tough periods.”

Kane has taken over the England captaincy on a permanent basis, and is filling in for the injured Hugo Lloris at Tottenham. “I am still the same person,” he said. “I still try and lead by example on and off the pitch and I will continue to do that. I have been in high pressure situations before in my career, whether that is going through goal droughts, playing in high-pressure games or not playing well as a team. It is something I will take in my stride and improve on.”

Leading by example includes finding the back of the net, while also supporting teammates both on and off the pitch. He knows even if he’s in good personal form on the stat sheet, there’s always ways to improve and help the squads through tough times.

“I am scoring goals but can I get more assists, create more chances? So yeah, I always look at little things I can get better at. Yes, the England form has been good but as ever, it can be better. We will see if I can continue scoring. It has been a good campaign but important I do not stop now.”