Five reasons why England need to be wary of Iceland
Here are five reasons why Iceland are no pushovers
ROUND OF 16
ENGLAND v ICELAND
(Tomorrow, 2.50am, Singtel TV Ch 142 & StarHub TV Ch 220 - Eleven EURO)
Iceland weren't the only country celebrating when Arnor Ingvi Traustason scored a last-gasp goal to clinch a 2-1 win over Austria on Wednesday.
England did too, for the result meant they will play the Scandinavians at the Stade de Nice tomorrow morning (Singapore time), instead of their bogey team Portugal.
But have the Three Lions celebrated too early?
Here are five reasons for Roy Hodgson's men to be wary of the Icelanders.
1 NO PUSHOVERS
In just their first major tournament, Iceland have made the knockout stages.
But England will do well not to write them off.
Iceland have already demonstrated a superb level of confidence and consistency during their qualifying campaign, in which they finished second in their group behind Czech Republic, but ahead of Turkey and Holland.
For the doubters who think they will freeze against big teams like England, the double they pulled over Holland in the qualifiers should shut them up.
They rely on a defensive resilience that has made them extremely tough to break down, while counting on a direct style of play at the attacking end.
Their traditional 4-4-2 system, which has become somewhat obsolete in world football, may be why they are so tricky to play against in this tournament.
It is obvious the Iceland team are greater than the sum of their parts.
But they are organised and disciplined, and have an excellent team spirit rivals may find hard to match.
2 NO PRESSURE
The lack of pressure can be a huge advantage.
Just ask England, a side burdened by unrealistic expectations for decades.
Elmar Bjarnason, the man who conjured the assist for Traustason's winner against Austria, was speaking to the media on Friday, when he showed just how relaxed the mood in their camp is.
Said the midfielder, who plays for modest Danish club Aarhus: "If Wayne Rooney asks me, then I will give him my shirt."
Gylfi Sigurdsson was also quick to highlight the contrast between what is expected of the two teams.
Said the Swansea man: "We have no pressure on us, that's the main thing.
"If you look at England, if they were to lose to us, there will be headlines back in England.
"We are just here to enjoy the tournament and the last 16."
3 FAMILIAR FOE
England will be ready for the attacking threat of Sigurdsson.
But, similarly, the 26-year-old Icelander will also have interesting notes on the opponents for his compatriots, having played in the English Premier League for more than four years.
He is his country's biggest offensive weapon.
His excellent long-range shooting makes him a danger in both open play and set-pieces.
For Swansea, the midfielder has scored 18 Premiership goals in the last two seasons.
He has done well on the international stage too, averaging one goal every three appearances (14 goals in 42 games).
He was Iceland's top scorer with six strikes during their qualifying campaign.
At the tournament proper, he netted from the spot during their 1-1 draw with Hungary in their second group match.
4 AWKWARD OPPONENTS
In some quarters in the England camp, some are probably wishing that they are playing Portugal instead.
The Three Lions have generally looked impressive during the group phase, and even surprised people with their possession stats.
With an average of 60.47 per cent of ball possession, they are fourth on the table, behind only Germany, Spain and Portugal.
They are also fifth on the charts for number of successful passes and passing accuracy, and, wait for this, top dogs in the art of dribbling, with 59 of them completed.
But against teams determined to park the bus, England have struggled, and Hodgson has admitted that his side play better against sides who have a go at them.
The defensive Russians restricted them to one goal, while Slovakia shut them out completely.
Against Wales, it took a bit of individual magic from striker Daniel Sturridge to beat them 2-1.
Iceland will gladly hand the initiative over to England, like they have done the entire competition.
And, compared with Russia or Slovakia, the Icelandic rearguard looks a notch tougher in terms of defensive organisation and tactical discipline.
5 UNSETTLED ENGLAND ATTACK
Three matches into Euro 2016, it remains anyone's guess who will start in attack for England.
Will Hodgson stick with strugglers Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane?
Both Premiership stars, who started their side's first two matches, have appeared out of sorts in this tournament.
In their second group match, they were taken off at half-time and their replacements combined to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 win, with Jamie Vardy netting the equaliser and Sturridge scoring an injury-time winner.
Their performances led to calls for Sterling and Kane to be replaced with them instead.
However, when Vardy and Sturridge were rewarded with starts in the final group match, against Slovakia, neither of them could make an impact in a goal-less draw which resulted in England finishing second on the table.
One thing is certain.
Against a resilient and solid Icelandic defence, Hodgson needs a fluid, dynamic attack to break them down.
We have players who have played there and everybody knows their players. I don’t know if the English players know many of our squad who haven’t played in England. It’s one reason why Sweden did so well.
— Lars Lagerback, drawing similarities between his Iceland and Sweden teams and explaining why he was unbeaten in six meetings with England while he was coach of Sweden
BY THE NUMBERS
England's last victory at the knockout stage of a major tournament came 10 years ago at the World Cup, when they edged out Ecuador 1-0, thanks to a David Beckham free-kick.
Lagerback aims to extend his unbeaten record against England
WEAPON: Iceland’s Aron Gunnarsson wiping the ball before launching a long throw. PHOTO: AFP
Iceland, the smallest nation ever to reach the Finals of a major football tournament, have no fear of their more illustrious opponents at Euro 2016 - thanks to their coach's "tactical brainwashing", defender Haukur Hauksson said.
Lars Lagerback, the Swedish coach famed for his meticulous approach, has had plenty of directives for his team but surprisingly has said little about the star players they are facing in France, such as Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo.
"A few days before the game, it's only tactics and stuff. It's almost like he's brainwashing us with his tactics," Hauksson chuckled. "We didn't really have a plan for Ronaldo.
"He (Lagerback) just said that if we defend well as a team and one-on-one, because they have a lot of players who are good one-on-one, and if we can defend those situations, then we would be able to stop them."
The 24-year-old fullback from Akureyri in the north of Iceland has not played at Euro 2016 yet, but he is enjoying the adventure, especially since the 2-1 win over Austria thanks to a late goal by Arnor Ingvi Traustason.
"After the game, the coach ordered two beers apiece, so that was really good. I think it was well deserved, everybody was buzzing," he told Reuters by telephone from the team's base in Annecy-le-Vieux in southern France.
"Arnor spent most of the next day on his phone accepting new followers' requests on Instagram and Facebook!"
Lagerback enjoyed plenty of success against England in nine years as Sweden coach, and believes a similar familiarity with the English Premier League could help Iceland pull off an upset.
"It's always nice to play England - I have good experience about that. I played them six times when I was coach of Sweden and we never lost, so we will try to keep that going," said Lagerback.
Though they are enjoying the sunshine and the pool at the team hotel, Hauksson said they were focused on the task, even those on the bench.
"The day after a game, the players who didn't play got a really intense training. Those of us who don't play have to keep hitting the gym and stuff," said Hauksson, who plays for Swedish club AIK.
Having grown up watching the EPL, Hauksson said they will not be in awe of their more illustrious opponents.
"I don't think that's going to be a problem, just like when we played against Ronaldo." he said. - Wire Services.
Hodgson wary of Iceland's 'Gunnar'
England coach Roy Hodgson is keeping a wary eye on the powerful throw-ins of Iceland's bearded captain Aron Gunnarsson ahead of their Euro 2016 clash.
"You'd have to be a bit blind not to realise that Gunnarsson is a weapon for them," said Hodgson, ahead of their meeting in Nice tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
"He doesn't only throw the ball into the box, but he also takes the throw-ins by his own corner flag and tries to throw it to the half-way line. So these are things we will be aware of and will prepare for."
Iceland scored their opener in their 2-1 win over Austria last Wednesday, thanks to the 27-year-old Cardiff City midfielder's aerial missile.
His raking arrow from the sideline reached the box where, with Austria's defence slow to react, Jon Dadi Bodvarsson finished from close range. - AFP.