NICE, France -- Three thoughts from Iceland's monumental 2-1 upset of England in the round of 16 on Monday at Euro 2016.
1. Iceland pull off greatest Euro upset
Make no mistake about this: Iceland's victory could not have been more thoroughly deserved. England were out-battled and outthought, the result being a 2-1 defeat that will go down as the biggest one-off shock at a European Championship.
Nobody could have predicted this after England produced the blistering start manager Roy Hodgson wanted. Their plan was to stretch an Iceland side big on organisation but short on pace, and it paid instant dividends. Before the three-minute mark had been reached, Daniel Sturridge turned the Iceland defence around with a searching diagonal pass for Raheem Sterling.
It was enough to tease goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson out to challenge, and as Sterling nudged the ball away from goal, Halldorsson clearly fouled the winger. Referee Damir Skomina gave a straightforward penalty decision; Wayne Rooney drilled the spot kick in low, and England seemed to have set themselves for a fairly quiet night.
But this is England, and this is an extraordinarily resilient Iceland. Just 34 seconds after the restart, Iceland squared things up, and the goal came from a tried and trusted method -- and one England had trained specifically to combat. Captain Aron Gunnarsson hurled a howitzer of a long throw-in from the right, Kari Arnason leapt high to flick on, and centre-half Ragnar Sigurdsson swept home with glee.
What happened next was astonishing: Iceland put their first genuine spell of possession together in the 19th minute, and with England failing to pressure the ball, Iceland made it count. A patient move ended with Gylfi Sigurdsson and Jon Dadi Bodvarsson combining on the edge of the area to tee up Kolbeinn Sigthorsson, whose shot was low and accurate but should not have beaten England goalkeeper Joe Hart. Via Hart's half-touch, however, the ball squirmed over the line, and Icelandic bodies writhed in blissful disbelief.
That, though, was nothing compared to the scenes when the final whistle blew. This was the kind of night that defines an entire tournament.
2. This Iceland side is truly remarkable
Take your hats off to this Iceland team. Enjoy them, love them, marvel at them. What a stunning, monumental effort this was -- a moment that will go down in the country's history and in footballing folklore too. Whatever happens in their quarterfinal with France, achievements in international football come little better than this. The wild celebrations at the end reflected a victory that, remarkably, was rarely in peril.
This, as Iceland co-manager Heimir Hallgrimsson had said prior to the match, was a win-win situation. But it was more than that; it was a chance, as he also acknowledged, to change the face of football in Iceland, to update those Old Norse legends once and for all.
The mix of guts, belief and application that Hallgrimsson and co-manager Lars Lagerback have instilled in their side is jaw-dropping. Many underdogs would be reeling after the concession of such an early -- and avoidable -- goal, but Iceland simply got on with it. If Ragnar Sigurdsson's strike was an example of a training ground move executed to perfection, Sigthorsson's was proof that, when given the chance, they are rather more than the direct, rudimentary side depicted in some sections of the media.
Despite surrendering huge amounts of possession, Iceland played the first half to perfection thereafter. There is no good chasing the ball too hard on a hot, muggy Cote d'Azur night; Iceland were generally happy to hold off pressing until England neared the penalty area, holding two impeccably straight lines of four that moved in unison as if remote-controlled. Blocks, tackles and rotational fouls all rained in whenever they were exposed; it was not pretty, at times, but it certainly worked.
Ten minutes after half-time, Iceland almost delved further into the realm of fantasy when, after Sigthorsson had flicked on, Ragnar Sigurdsson was inches from an improbable brace, twisting himself into an overhead kick that Hart blocked at point-blank range. Iceland had another chance 18 minutes from time when right-back Birkir Saevarsson, finding himself on the end of a passing move that drew "oles" from the crowd, cut inside and blasted narrowly over. Gunnarsson, running clear before Hart saved, could have added a goal of his own late on too.
The abiding image of Iceland's defensive resilience after the break came when Ragnar Sigurdsson, monumental throughout, strained everything to stop Jamie Vardy from getting away 10 minutes after the striker's introduction. But beyond that, Iceland were hardly troubled on the night of their dreams.
3. Sloppy England exit in disgrace
There is no point dressing it up: This was woeful from England, a humiliating defeat at the hands of a side that looked better-prepared, better-led and -- quite simply -- more interested. England rarely looked like getting back into the game, despite having 70 minutes to do so; it was sluggish, sloppy and careless, and it has ended in Hodgson's exit.
England had looked fluent at times during the group stage, but incisiveness was an issue, and it was no surprise to see Hodgson make six changes to his starting lineup. Back came Danny Rose, Kyle Walker, Dele Alli, Rooney, Harry Kane and Sterling; the real talking point, though, came in the recall for Sterling, last seen when he was taken off at half-time against Wales.
When Sterling, who had already spurned a good chance to shoot, won the penalty, it seemed Hodgson had got it spot-on. England had the wind in their sails and seemed ripe to pick Iceland off from there. Instead, they became laboured all too quickly, failing to move the ball at speed and spurning the opportunities they made. Kane saw a volley tipped over from a clever ball by Sturridge, and Alli speared a long-ranger just off target. But there was little else, and they had hardly covered themselves in glory with the lack of pressure applied in their own half.
England were jeered off at half-time. There needed to be a shift of the gears, and it was no surprise to see Jack Wilshere replace Eric Dier when the teams returned. Alli was pushed further forward, but England began as they left off, creating nothing in the first 15 minutes of the second half.
Vardy replaced Sterling, to the England support's pleasure, on the hour, and Alli immediately lifted a half-chance over the top. But still England toiled -- snatching, rushing, over-hitting, skewing. The jeers rang out after one Rose cross sailed out of play; after Sturridge contrived a useless, skied ball from a good position shortly afterward, Hodgson could be seen holding his head in his hands. After another 20 minutes of toil to absolutely no avail, he had far, far more to be worried about. England exit in unimaginably lukewarm circumstances.