Nice: In presiding over England’s humiliating Euro 2016 elimination at the hands of Iceland, Roy Hodgson seemed to abandon the principles upon which he has constructed his entire career.
Hodgson, 68, resigned as manager in the press conference room at Stade de Nice minutes after his side’s 2-1 loss to Iceland in the last 16 on Monday had brought his third major tournament to a dismal end.
Despite building his reputation upon producing well-structured, defensively organised teams, his England side proved careless in defence and shapeless in attack, prompting withering criticism from pundits.
“Roy was making it up as he was going along,” former England captain Alan Shearer said on the BBC.
“It was the worst performance I have seen from an England team. Ever. They were out-thought, out-fought, out-battled. Totally hopeless.”
With his side trailing 2-1 at half-time to Iceland — a country of 330,000 people, with just 100 professional footballers — Hodgson’s response was to summon the cavalry.
Jack Wilshere, Jamie Vardy and, in the dying stages, teenage Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford entered the fray. England had four strikers on the pitch.
It worked against Wales in the group phase — Vardy and Daniel Sturridge coming off the bench to score in a 2-1 win — but against Iceland, England looked completely bereft of ideas.
Just as at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, which saw Hodgson’s men eliminated in the group phase after a 2-1 loss to Uruguay, when England needed patience and poise, they seemed to panic.
Iceland defender and goal-scorer Ragnar Sigurdsson said: “We didn’t feel that they created any chances. We were just heading away long balls.”
Hodgson took five named strikers to France, including midfield convert Wayne Rooney, but his team managed only four goals, with main striker Harry Kane failing to score.
Defensively, things were better in the group phase, only to fall apart against Iceland.
Sigurdsson scored Iceland’s first goal, cancelling out Rooney’s penalty in the sixth minute by charging into the box and volleying home Kari Arnason’s flick-on from Aron Gunnarsson’s long throw-in.
– ‘Neville myth’ -Gunnarsson’s mighty throws had been identified as a threat by Hodgson in the build-up, but the ease with which Sigurdsson strolled into the box to score exposed serious defensive shortcomings.
Gary Neville, Hodgson’s assistant, has also stepped down and he, too, found himself in the firing line.
“What on earth is Gary Neville doing?” Shearer asked.
“He was one of the best defenders in the world. He will know Iceland’s strength at set-pieces, so surely he has been working on defending them all week.”
Joey Barton, the Rangers midfielder, commented acerbically on Twitter that “the Neville myth has exploded”.
Confirming that the malaise affected the whole team, the winning goal was the fault of goalkeeper Joe Hart, who could only palm Kolbeinn Sigthorsson’s 18th-minute strike into the net.
Pressed to explain what had happened, England captain Rooney was at a loss.
“We knew they were dangerous from set-pieces and throw-ins,” he said.
“We didn’t deal with that well enough. We prepared and did everything we could and it hasn’t worked for us.”
England brought the second-youngest squad in the tournament to France and in his resignation statement, Hodgson said the line-up was “exciting for the future of English football”.
The Football Association announced that it will discuss plans to appoint a successor “imminently”.
Whoever succeeds Hodgson will inherit a squad rich in youthful promise, with players like Rashford, Kane, Dele Alli and Eric Dier all still relative newcomers at international level.
Gareth Southgate, the England Under-21 manager, tops an underwhelming list of potential successor, with Crystal Palace manager Alan Pardew and Neville also said to be in the running.
Rooney voiced optimism that the “future is bright” for England, but as their team’s fans drifted into the Nice night, even the most optimistic would have struggled to see through the gloom.