LISBON: The world and the European both opened their Nations League campaigns with victory, France winning 1-0 in Sweden and Portugal beating Croatia 4-1.
France won with a goal from Kylian Mbappe while Portugal had no problems despite missing captain Cristiano Ronaldo.
As for England, Raheem Sterling’s late penalty delivered a 1-0 victory in Iceland who missed a potentially equalising spot kick of their own in stoppage time.
In an chaotic end to a largely dull encounter, Sterling looked to have secured three points for manager Gareth Southgate’s side when he rolled in an 89th-minute spot-kick after his shot was handled by Sverrir Ingason, who was then sent off after receiving a second yellow card.
England, who had earlier been reduced to 10 men after Kyle Walker was also sent off for second yellow card, had to survive that last-gasp scare when Iceland were awarded a penalty for Joe Gomez’s foul but Birkir Bjarnason was wildly off target.
England made hard work of the win against a stubborn and well-organised Iceland but were the better and more positive side.
Southgate’s team, playing their first game since the 4-0 win in Kosovo in November, showed understandable rustiness with the Premier League restart still a week away and England were frustrated further when Walker was dismissed for a second yellow card with 20 minutes left.
Walker’s recall was marred by his challenge on Arnor Traustason – but England had an even bigger cause for complaint when an early goal from captain Harry Kane was ruled out for offside. There was no VAR for this game and replays showed Kane was onside as he pounced on Sterling’s left-wing cross.
This was a lifeless affair behind closed doors against the side who humiliated England at Euro 2016 and Southgate will have learned little despite giving a debut to Manchester City’s Phil Foden and introducing Manchester United teenage striker Mason Greenwood for his debut late on – but he will take the victory before Tuesday’s game in Denmark.
Southgate will have been delighted to give Foden the first of many England caps while Greenwood will also have enjoyed his taste of international action during his cameo after coming on as a substitute for Kane.
Sterling calmly rolled in the penalty that eventually gave England their opening Nations League win but Southgate will not have welcomed Walker’s rash challenge, irrespective of the level of contact, that brought him his second yellow card and the clumsy foul by Gomez that almost threw Iceland that injury-time lifeline.
England move on to face Denmark in Copenhagen on Tuesday buoyed by these opening three points and Southgate will have been delighted to spend so much time with his players after the international hiatus as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
He was able to watch some of the younger players he introduced into the squad at close quarters and may be able to see them in England action once more against the Danes.
Sterling’s goal was his 13th in all competitions for England, but his first from the penalty spot. He has had a hand in 17 goals in his last 12 appearances for England (11 goals, 6 assists).
Danny Ings made his first appearance for England since October 2015 – 1,790 days ago. It is the longest gap between England games for an outfield player since Lee Dixon went 1,911 days between 1993 and 1999.
Walker became the first England player to be sent off since Sterling v Ecuador in June 2014.
Greenwood and Foden both made their England debuts in this match – it is the first time a Manchester United and a Manchester City player have earned their first England caps in the same game since September 1992 v Spain (Paul Ince and David White).
Iceland 0 England 1
Portugal 4 Croatia 1
Sweden 0 France 1
North Macedonia 2 Armenia 1
Gibraltar 1 San Marino 0
Estonia 0 Georgia 1
Azerbaijan 1 Luxembourg 2
Cyprus 0 Montenegro 2
Denmark 0 Belgium 2