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England against Iceland might have taken place in Albania thanks to a strain of coronavirus in Denmark which has spread from mink to humans. Maybe I’ve spent too long in lockdown to understand anything anymore, but that first sentence is apparently factually correct.
Thankfully common sense prevailed, and the game is taking place at Wembley as intended. But unfortunately for these countries, their results in their Nations League group mean that this is a dead rubber. England lost in Belgium on Sunday, which means Gareth Southgate’s team cannot top the group, while Iceland were already relegated from Nations League A anyway.
The last time these nations met it was a very dour affair. Kyle Walker was sent off for England, and Iceland received more red cards than they had shots on target.
Each side had an injury-time penalty – it’s almost like the teams forced a shootout to make it all feel worthwhile – and Raheem Sterling scored while Birkir Bjarnason missed. All part of Southgate’s four-dimensional chess, no doubt.
But while it’s too long ago to have any true relevance here, England’s only previous match against Iceland on home turf is probably a more realistic predecessor to this match. It took place at the City of Manchester Stadium back in 2004, with Sven Goran Eriksson’s side running out 6-1 winners.
It was peak ‘Golden Generation’. You know, that much-heralded group of players who never got past the quarter-finals of a major tournament.
Anyway, as Iceland lost 5-1 in Belgium in September and 2-1 in Denmark (though both home goals on Sunday were penalties, in fairness) it’s hard not to think England will win comfortably enough. Even accounting for their recent loss to Denmark, the Three Lions have won 12 of their 14 games on home soil since the summer of 2018, with Spain the only other nation to prevent them from winning. England will want to sign off 2020 in style so should conquer the handicap.
Games at Wembley tend to be goal heavy. Only three in the last two-and-a-half years have seen fewer than three goals scored, and it’s a similar story for Iceland when they’re on the road – only three of their 11 away games since the last World Cup have pleased bettors who’ve gone for under 2.5 goals.
So we can expect some goalmouth action, but what’s the chances of both teams finding the net? England’s defence is usually strong in their own backyard, as evidenced by their record of five goals conceded – three of which were penalties – in their seven matches since the start of 2019/20.
And as Iceland only had one non-penalty shot when these sides last met, they are unlikely to fashion too many chances in this one. Both teams have scored in five of their last six away matches but as they have nothing to play for, it’s tough to see them scoring. Unless Jordan Pickford does some kamikaze madness, which is never out of the question.
While England should score a few goals at home against the weakest team in the group, finding the net is not something they’ve done much of in this Nations League campaign. Two of their three goals have come from the penalty spot, and the other was Mason Mount’s massively deflected winner in the home match with Belgium.
Harry Kane is well overdue an international goal though. He has played the most minutes of any England attacker this season, yet has no goals or assists to show for his 373 minutes on the pitch.
In fact, with 19 shots in the Nations League, Kane has mustered just six attempts fewer than Iceland have managed in this group, which sums up quite neatly what a mismatch this fixture is. The Tottenham man had seven shots in Belgium on Sunday, and would’ve scored had Romelu Lukaku not headed one of his efforts off the line.
With Marcus Rashford injured, and Raheem Sterling likely out too, unless Dominic Calvert-Lewin starts then it’s hard to make a case for any scorer other than Kane.
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England v Iceland tips
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