Nice, France: Gary Cahill was lying face down on the field in disbelief. Dele Alli was squatting on the turf with his head in his hands. It was utter humiliation for England.
First-time finalist Iceland embarrassed the inept stars of the Premier League on Monday, dumping them out of the European Championship in the round of 16.
And the man who presided over yet another night of English ignominy immediately quit. Roy Hodgson had little choice.
The coach’s four-year contract was due to expire after Euro 2016 but he accepted immediately after the 2-1 loss to Iceland that there was no way he could stay in the job.
“I would have loved to stay on another two years. However, I’m pragmatic and know that we’re in the results business,” Hodgson said.
“My contract was always up after the Euros, so now is the time for someone else to oversee the progress of this young, hungry and extremely talented group of players.”
Those players will probably now have this mortifying night in Nice to contend with for the rest of their careers.
The final score read 2-1 but, in the heat of the French Riviera, England melted away against Iceland, lacking creativity and technically deficient.
Center forward Daniel Sturridge was jettisoned to the right, while Raheem Sterling was bereft of ideas and confidence on the left flank.
Harry Kane, the Premier League’s top scorer last season, leaves France without a single goal. Wayne Rooney, England’s all-time leading scorer, was sloppily conceding possession with poor passes—but the captain did convert his team’s fourth-minute penalty on Monday.
What a perfect start it was, the launch pad for an exhilarating night of attacking football. Or not. The lead was gone in 34 seconds.
England couldn’t defend a long throw-in and defender Kyle Walker was badly exposed when Ragnar Sigurdsson was left in space to equalize.
And the errors continued. Goalkeeper Joe Hart blundered in the 18th minute, allowing Kolbeinn Sigthorsson’s shot to squirm past him.
“The standards I set haven’t been met in this tournament so I’m going to hold my hands up for that,” Hart said.
“From the bottom of my heart, I am sorry.”
The pampered and cossetted players won’t find much sympathy back home.
“We have to get over this,” Rooney said. “But tonight we are devastated.”
The scale of Iceland’s achievement, as the smallest country to ever qualify for a major tournament, is incredible.
Without any professional clubs in their domestic league and with a population of only 330,000, the Icelanders managed to upset the country which hosts the world richest and most popular soccer competition and where 1.8 million people play the game every week.
There will be much head-scratching among baffled English soccer leaders, though they have been through similar inquests before after heavy blows to national pride.
They did at least qualify for France, unlike Euro 2008. But coming so soon after the group stage exit at the 2014 World Cup is disconcerting for a country where lofty expectations don’t match the reality.
Hodgson was allowed to stay in charge despite England failing to win a single game two years ago in Brazil.
The English Football Association may now be regretting that decision.
Qualification for Euro 2016 was secured with a clean sweep of 10 wins, with the tournament expected to see the fruits of his four years in charge flourish, with a vibrant young team.
“We have played with no fear throughout the last two years and we have played some really good stuff,” Rooney said.
Just not in France.
The squad Hodgson brought to France was found to be desperately lacking in width and ideas.
It flies home with only one win in the group stage, against Wales, and the country is still waiting for its first knockout stage victory at a tournament since the 2006 World Cup.
England has won only one major tournament—the 1966 World Cup, on home soil. The country will host the final three games of Euro 2020 at Wembley Stadium, though it’s unclear who will be in charge of the national team by then. There are no obvious candidates to succeed Hodgson.
“We feel like we have let ourselves down and let the manager down at times,” Rooney concluded on a miserable night for English football. AP