By Jamie Sim
With just over a week to go before England’s first international matches since November, Manchester United centre-back and captain Harry Maguire found himself in a spot of bother on the Greek island of Mykonos.
Maguire claimed that after a fight broke out in a local bar, a group of plain-clothed police officers threw him out of his group’s minibus, continually hit his legs and repeating “your career is over” without identifying themselves.
After a trial on the island of Syros, the England international was found guilty of aggravated assault, resisting arrest and repeated attempts of bribery, which resulted in a suspended sentence of 21 months in prison and withdrawal from the England squad. So not the best of starts.
Remember Euro 2016? … Yeah, me neither. A memory erased by the majority of England fans watching uncle Roy’s final game in charge of the national side against Iceland: a painful 2-1 defeat which lead to England’s ignominious early exit.
On Saturday, England took on Iceland in the Nations League. With some of the same names featuring in the 2016 game, many thought we could see a bit of grudge match between the two sides. Instead, we were greeted with a three lions side who looked as though they had just woken up from a nap, bluntly attacking a particularly stubborn horde of Vikings.
The majority of the match held very little of interest, a scuffed chance from Rice and a couple of “ooo’s” and “aah’s” at the quick feet of Jadon Sancho.
A second booking for Kyle Walker seemed to have really capped England’s underwhelming night, before a brash challenge by Ingasson saw the referee give the second red card of the match and point to the spot in the 89th minute. In the absence of the substituted Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling coolly rolled the ball in to the net and seemingly put the game to bed.
England survived a last-minute scare when Iceland were awarded a penalty in the 95th minute after Joe Gomez’s foul, although ex-Villa midfielder Birkir Bjarnason ballooned the ball over the bar. England 1-0 Iceland. Vengeance achieved … ish.
Elsewhere, Spain snatched a late equaliser against Germany. €30 Million Leeds striker Rodrigo fluffed his lines to send Spain ahead early on, taking note from his new striking partner Patrick Bamford, but helped out with an assist for Gayà to make it 1-1. Portugal sent flurry of goals past World Cup semi-finalists Croatia in a 4-1 win, featuring a goal from wonder-kid João Félix.
Two nights before the England vs Denmark match, young lions’ stars Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood, who each made their debuts against Iceland, were dropped from the England squad and sent packing.
This saga occurred when the boys invited local Icelandic girls back to their room. They were fined £1360 and banned from the next four England games for breaking lockdown measures.
This astonishing display of naïvety has led to both of the players releasing statements and apologies to their clubs and countries, although Foden should probably start with apologies to his girlfriend and son.
England then faced Denmark in a remarkably drab 0-0 draw. With Euro 2021 now less than a year away, there are serious doubts as to whether this squad is performing under manager Gareth Southgate.
There was very little to discuss from the match: Conor Coady was OK, as was Kalvin Phillips who seemed sharp and ready to impress. Harry Kane had a half chance to steal the game after taking it around Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel, only for it to be cleared off the line.
Going forward, I think I speak for every non-Birmingham City fan when I say that Jack Grealish deserved more. Getting just 14 minutes of game time after being one of the most creative attacking midfielders in the league last season is beyond me. In a team that struggled to create chances and shift the ball through phases, Southgate should look at players from smaller teams, who have big impacts on teams which maybe aren’t clicking.
Outside of the disappointing performance in Copenhagen Ronaldo secured his 100th and 101st international goals for Portugal, becoming only the second player to ever reach 100 goals for his country in a convincing 2-0 win over Sweden. Belgium thrashed the Iceland side England had struggled to breakdown 5-1 and Italy achieved an impressive 1-0 victory against a strong Netherlands side.
I think if the Nations League has taught us anything, it’s that English football is replicating a country which seems almost bored of itself: bar fights, Tinder and goalless draws. This is England.
Image: ellbrown via Creative Commons