Raheem Sterling’s late penalty gave England victory as they started their Uefa Nations League campaign in Iceland – despite the hosts squandering the chance to rescue a point by missing an injury-time spot-kick.
In an chaotic end to a largely dull encounter, Sterling looked to have secured three points for manager Gareth Southgate’s side when he rolled in an 89th-minute spot-kick after his shot was handled by Sverrir Ingason, who was then sent off after receiving a second yellow card.
England, who had earlier been reduced to 10 men after Kyle Walker was also sent off for second yellow card, had to survive that last-gasp scare when Iceland were awarded a penalty for Joe Gomez’s foul but Birkir Bjarnason was wildly off target.
England made hard work of the win against a stubborn and well-organised Iceland but were the better and more positive side.
Southgate’s team, playing their first game since the 4-0 win in Kosovo in November, showed understandable rustiness with the Premier League restart still a week away and England were frustrated further when Walker was dismissed for a second yellow card with 20 minutes left.
Walker’s recall was marred by his challenge on Arnor Traustason – but England had an even bigger cause for complaint when an early goal from captain Harry Kane was ruled out for offside. There was no VAR for this game and replays showed Kane was onside as he pounced on Sterling’s left-wing cross.
This was a lifeless affair behind closed doors against the side who humiliated England at Euro 2016 and Southgate will have learned little despite giving a debut to Manchester City’s Phil Foden and introducing Manchester United teenage striker Mason Greenwood for his debut late on – but he will take the victory ahead of Tuesday’s game in Denmark.
Patient England leave it late
There was very little positive for England in this match other than the victory itself but it must also be placed in the context of when this game was being played and its circumstances.
This was almost like a behind-closed-doors pre-season friendly in an international guise so it comes as no surprise that England lacked the sort of sharpness and inspiration that would have come with more match practice.
Southgate will have been delighted to give Foden the first of many England caps while Greenwood will also have enjoyed his taste of international action during his cameo after coming on as a substitute for Kane.
Sterling calmly rolled in the penalty that eventually gave England their opening Nations League win but Southgate will not have welcomed Walker’s rash challenge, irrespective of the level of contact, that brought him his second yellow card and the clumsy foul by Gomez that almost threw Iceland that injury-time lifeline.
England, as a plus, were patient and probing and, despite the colourless nature of the game, deserved the win, even though it arrived so late.
Southgate looks to Denmark
England move on to face Denmark in Copenhagen on Tuesday buoyed by these opening three points and Southgate will have been delighted to spend so much time with his players after the international hiatus as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
He was able to watch some of the younger players he introduced into the squad at close quarters and may be able to see them in England action once more against the Danes.
Iceland were defiant, as they always are, rigid in defence and lacking in attacking ambition, willing to simply keep England at arm’s length and maybe land a counter-punch.
They almost did with that late penalty but England survived to make a winning restart to their international calendar.
Ings’ long wait – the stats
- All three of England’s victories in the Nations League have been by a different one-goal margin (3-2 v Spain, 2-1 v Croatia, 1-0 v Iceland).
- Iceland have lost all five of their Nations League games by an aggregate score of 1-14.
- Iceland failed to have a single shot on target in this match, while Sterling’s winning penalty was England’s only attempt on target in the second half.
- Sterling’s goal was his 13th in all competitions for England, but his first from the penalty spot. He has had a hand in 17 goals in his last 12 appearances for England (11 goals, 6 assists).
- Danny Ings made his first appearance for England since October 2015 – 1,790 days ago. It is the longest gap between England games for an outfield player since Lee Dixon went 1,911 days between 1993 and 1999.
- Walker became the first England player to be sent off since Sterling v Ecuador in June 2014.
- Greenwood and Foden both made their England debuts in this match – it is the first time a Manchester United and a Manchester City player have earned their first England caps in the same game since September 1992 v Spain (Paul Ince and David White).
- 5IngasonBooked at 89mins
- 15ThorsteinssonSubstituted forSigurdssonat 66′minutes
- 21TraustasonSubstituted forHallfredssonat 76′minutes
- 22BödvarssonSubstituted forFridjónssonat 90+1′minutes
- 23AF Skúlason
- 2WalkerBooked at 70mins
- 5GomezBooked at 90mins
- 9SanchoSubstituted forAlexander-Arnoldat 73′minutes
- 11FodenSubstituted forIngsat 68′minutes
- 10KaneSubstituted forGreenwoodat 78′minutes
Match ends, Iceland 0, England 1.
Second Half ends, Iceland 0, England 1.
Penalty missed! Bad penalty by Birkir Bjarnason (Iceland) right footed shot is just a bit too high. Birkir Bjarnason should be disappointed.
Joseph Gomez (England) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Penalty conceded by Joseph Gomez (England) after a foul in the penalty area.
Penalty Iceland. Holmbert Fridjónsson draws a foul in the penalty area.
Substitution, Iceland. Holmbert Fridjónsson replaces Jón Dadi Bödvarsson.
Goal! Iceland 0, England 1. Raheem Sterling (England) converts the penalty with a right footed shot to the centre of the goal.
Second yellow card to Sverrir Ingason (Iceland) for hand ball.
Penalty conceded by Sverrir Ingason (Iceland) with a hand ball in the penalty area.
Attempt blocked. Raheem Sterling (England) right footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked.
Corner, England. Conceded by Sverrir Ingason.
Corner, England. Conceded by Sverrir Ingason.
Eric Dier (England) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Jón Dadi Bödvarsson (Iceland).
Corner, England. Conceded by Kári Árnason.
Kieran Trippier (England) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Albert Gudmundsson (Iceland).
Offside, Iceland. Birkir Bjarnason tries a through ball, but Jón Dadi Bödvarsson is caught offside.
Substitution, England. Mason Greenwood replaces Harry Kane.