England are walking on thin ice

REINSTATED: England's captain Rooney (front) is expected to be restored by Hodgson to the starting XI against unpredictable Iceland who have exceeded all expectations so far in the tournament. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY


    Jun 27, 2016

    England are walking on thin ice


    OPPORTUNITY knocks for Iceland and potential disaster looms for Roy Hodgson's England in their David-and-Goliath last 16 clash tonight.

    For Iceland, whose population of 330,000 makes them the smallest country to have qualified for a major tournament, the game in the Mediterranean city of Nice brings the chance to score one of the biggest upsets in football history.

    For England - haunted by 50 years of hurt since their 1966 World Cup triumph - and their under-pressure manager Hodgson, it represents the wobbliest of tightropes.

    "I am not even contemplating going out to Iceland," Hodgson told reporters.

    "As far as I'm concerned, I will prepare the team for Iceland and we will do the best we can to win the game."

    A quarter-final at Stade de France against the Republic of Ireland or hosts France awaits the victors but England's group-stage travails mean they cannot afford to look that far ahead.

    Roundly criticised for making six changes to his starting XI against Slovakia, Hodgson is expected to restore captain Wayne Rooney, Dele Alli, Kyle Walker and Danny Rose to his line-up.

    But his attacking configuration remains problematic.

    Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling disappointed in England's first two games.

    Sturridge and Jamie Vardy, decisive against Wales, failed to impress against Slovakia.

    There is little mystery about how Iceland will set themselves up. Lars Lagerback's side secured a second-place finish in Group F with a low defensive bloc and clinical counter-attacks.

    After earning the scorn of Cristiano Ronaldo by holding Portugal to a 1-1 draw, a late own goal gave away a 1-1 draw with Hungary. Iceland needed a dramatic 2-1 win over Austria to secure a last-16 place.

    Arnor Traustason's 94th-minute winner - deliriously described by Icelandic television commentator Gudmundur Benediktsson - had the effect of tipping Iceland into the draw's thorny bottom half.

    But where England see danger in Nice, Iceland see only opportunity.

    Said co-coach Heimir Hallgrimsson: "For the people of Iceland, this game is not seen in that way.

    "I wouldn't want to be Roy Hodgson if he lost to Iceland."