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Iceland 0-1 England: 5 talking points | UEFA Nations League 2020-21

England defeated Iceland 0-1, thanks to Raheem Sterling
England defeated Iceland 0-1, thanks to Raheem Sterling's late penalty
Scott Newman
Modified 06 Sep 2020
Top 5 / Top 10

In a somewhat lacklustre performance in Reykjavik, England were able to secure a 1-0 victory over Iceland in their opening game of the 2020-21 UEFA Nations League campaign.

The game hardly saw an impressive performance from Gareth Southgate’s side. England bossed possession but struggled to create any meaningful chances, with their winning goal coming from a controversial penalty awarded after a late handball from Sverrir Ingason who was shown his second yellow card for the infraction.

Iceland could’ve had a late equaliser when Joe Gomez gave away a soft spot-kick, but former Aston Villa man Birkir Bjarnason fired his penalty over the bar.

On that note, here are five talking points from England’s win over Iceland in their 2020-21 UEFA Nations League opener.

#1: England fail to make the most of their possession advantage

England had 78% of the possession in the game but struggled to open Iceland up.
England had 78% of the possession in the game but struggled to open Iceland up.

England were always likely to have the lion’s share of the ball in this game and sure enough, they had a huge statistical advantage – ending the game with 78% possession. However, Gareth Southgate’s side failed to make the most of it, ending the game with just four shots on target.

It was yet another example of England struggling to deal with a deep-lying side who were willing to use a low block in defence. The Three Lions were able to cut through sides using this style of play in qualifying for Euro 2020. But Iceland are clearly a tougher team than the likes of Montenegro and Kosovo as they largely managed to keep England at bay.

To put it simply, England didn’t move the ball quick enough for large swathes of this game. They were too comfortable to keep possession for the sake of it, with their primary playmaker Phil Foden being largely anonymous.


Could this be put down to rustiness, given it was England’s first international game following a highly strange season? Perhaps yes, but if Southgate’s side wish to win the European Championship next summer, they’ll need to improve massively on tonight's performance.

#2: Iceland offered very little throughout the game

Iceland offered very little and missed a chance to equalise from the penalty spot.
Iceland offered very little and missed a chance to equalise from the penalty spot.

When Iceland defeated England at Euro 2016 to make the quarterfinals of that tournament, they were a very basic, functional side, but they were also highly effective, particularly from set-pieces. The England win was a massive achievement for them, but they also looked dangerous in their matches with sides like Portugal and France.

However, it was clear based on tonight’s game that the current Iceland side are just not as good as the one that headed to the 2018 FIFA World Cup, let alone Euro 2016.

Part of that was obviously due to the weaker squad they had to select from – key men like Gylfi Sigurdsson and Johann Berg Gudmundsson withdrew – but even when England were reduced to ten men, Erik Hamren’s side offered basically nothing in attack.


It was telling that the game ended with Iceland having just two shots on goal, with none of them being on target, including their late penalty. Based on this game, Iceland could struggle to remain in League A when the current Nations League campaign comes to an end.

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Published 06 Sep 2020, 01:13 IST
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