England appears to have cracked one of its biggest problems in recent major tournaments: Keeping hold of the ball.
Next problem to solve: What to do with it.
With Wayne Rooney in his new role as a midfield conductor, England has enjoyed a lot of possession in each of its three group games at the European Championship.
Yet, the team has only scored three goals from 65 attempted shots to show for its dominance.
Rooney, England’s captain, said this must change against Iceland in the round of 16 on Monday.
“You can be positive,” Rooney said Sunday in the French Riviera city of Nice on the eve of the game, “and say we’ve dominated the three games we’ve played and we’ve not always done that.
“We know that if we keep getting chances, we’ll score goals. It’s a knockout now and we haven’t got time to be wasteful with any more chances.”
Time will tell if England gets to show it can retain possession in the same manner it has in Euro 2016 against the continent’s bigger teams.
One of them France awaits in the quarterfinals, following its 2-1 victory over Ireland earlier Sunday.
First England needs to get past Iceland, which is likely to employ the same sort of defensive tactics Slovakia used in England’s last group game.
On that occasion, England failed to convert its chances and the match ended 0-0.
Much-traveled England coach Roy Hodgson managed in Scandinavia for a large chunk of the early part of his coaching career. He is a good judge of the Icelandic spirit that has got the smallest nation in the tournament through to the knockout stage.
“The character, their determination and ability to survive through hardships, I’m certain that’s been a major factor in their progress,” Hodgson said. “We will have to accept the title as favourites, they go in as underdogs. But we know that it’ll be a very difficult game for us.”
This game will likely determine whether Hodgson retains his job for the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign. Lose to Iceland, a country with a population of 330,000 and historically counted among Europe’s weakest teams, and Hodgson’s reign could end after four years.
His contract is up after Euro 2016.
“Every result is significant as a football coach,” Hodgson said, when asked about the importance of this match to his future, “but more so for the team and the country. We desperately want to stay in the tournament.”
Hodgson has yet to find the right balance to his forward line either in the warm-up games or the tournament itself, and the feeling is he is yet to settle on his best team.
Harry Kane is expected to come back as the lone striker, so the main conundrum for Hodgson appears to be who to play as the two wide players in his 4-3-3.
It’s not as if Hodgson hasn’t got options. He can pick and mix from strikers Daniel Sturridge and Jamie Vardy, as well as attacking midfielders Raheem Sterling and Adam Lallana.
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