England kicked off their UEFA Nations League campaign with a dramatic win against Iceland on Saturday evening.
In what was initially a sombre affair, the game certainly livened up in the closing stages as Kyle Walker was sent off for two bookable offences. Raheem Sterling then won and converted a penalty in what appeared to be the last minute, which also saw Sverrir Ingason given his marching orders. The hosts were then given their own chance from the spot following a Joe Gomez foul but Birkir Bjarnason spurned the opportunity, blazing the ball over the crossbar.
Here are five things we learnt from the match:
Rustiness on show
Having not played a competitive game since last November’s 4-0 victory against Kosovo, it was understandable that Gareth Southgate’s men were not quite up to their best. The Three Lions really struggled throughout the game to create any real chances of note. That could also be due to the relatively early scheduling of the match in regards to the season.
The visitors at some points failed to get into any sort of rhythm against a stubborn and organised Iceland side. With this game out of the way, Southgate will hope that the cobwebs have certainly been blown away ahead of the clash with Denmark next week.
Iceland Nations League woes continue
It would be fair to say that Iceland are not particularly enamoured by the Nations League. Of the five games that they have played across two editions of the competition, the country has not yet managed to claim a single point. As a matter of fact, they have only managed to score a solitary goal.
Their best chance to end that wretched run came on Saturday from the spot but Bjarnason’s kick flew off target, again condemning them to defeat.
Not a happy return for Walker
Selected in the squad for the current international break, Manchester City defender Kyle Walker’s recall and inclusion in the starting line-up was his first appearance for his nation in a year. In the time since, he has not been selected for any of the last six matches. It was not a return to remember though.
The right-back struggled throughout the evening, eventually getting sent off with 20 minutes remaining, something that will see him suspended. However, considering that horrendous performance, it might well have been unlikely that he would be included for the game against Denmark, with Trent Alexander-Arnold surely first choice for the foreseeable future.
No VAR drama?
Despite the late nature of the victory, England could well feel slightly aggrieved that the three points were not wrapped up earlier. Skipper Harry Kane could have been on the scoresheet after he tucked home Raheem Sterling’s cross but was eventually denied by the offside flag.
Replays suggested that the striker was indeed onside when he converted but due to the lack of VAR, the goal was not awarded.
England amongst the favourites?
Whilst the win was not all too convincing, Southgate will of course be delighted with maximum points that has got them off to the perfect start in the second UEFA Nations League campaign. As a result, the Three Lions still remain one of the favourites to win the competition this season but first they have to get out of their group and considering Saturday’s success, they’re in a great position to do that. They can be backed at a price of 10/11 with Betfair to win the group.
Iceland: Halldorsson (6); Magnusson (6), Ingason (5), Arnason (6), Hermansson (6); Traustason (7) (Hallfredsson (N/A), 76′), Palsson (6), Bjarnasson (6), Thorsteinsson (6) (Sigurdsson (6), 66′); Bodvarsson (6) (Fridjonsson (N/A), 90+1′), Gudmunsson (6).
England: Pickford (6); Trippier (6), Dier (7), Gomez (6), Walker (5); Rice (7); Sterling (7), Foden (7) (Ings (6), 68′), Ward-Prowse (6), Sancho (6) (Alexander-Arnold (6), 73′); Kane (6) (Greenwood (N/A), 78′).
Goals: Sterling (PEN 90+1′)
Referee: Srdjan Jovanovic
Yellow Cards: Walker (33′, 70′), Ingason (42′, 89′), Gomez (90+2′)
Red Cards: Walker (70′), Ingason (89′)