REYKJAVIK: Manager Gareth Southgate was unhappy with both the manner in which England kicked off their Nations League campaign with a 1-0 victory in Iceland – and with Kyle Walker.
Preparation for Reykjavik had been anything but ideal.
Firstly, Southgate’s players were at different stages of fitness from their pre-season training. Secondly, the match was preceded by the negative publicity over Harry Maguire’s Greek island incident which saw the Manchester United captain selected then dropped for the ties in Iceland and Denmark on Tuesday.
Finally, England’s players had to deal with the pressure to deliver a winning response after the embarrassing defeat by Iceland in the second round of Euro 2016.
Southgate gave a senior debut to Manchester City youngster Phil Foden and fielded his first-choice attack in Jadon Sancho, Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling. They struggled, however, to break down Iceland’s two banks of four. Similar lack of creativity against the Danes could see a substitute’s appearance, at least, for Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish.
The absence of VAR meant Kane had a goal wrongly disallowed for offside after six minutes. Then it was not until the 89th minute that Sterling scored the winning goal from a penalty after his goal-bound shot had been handled by Sverrir Ingi Ingason.
Sterling had no hesitation in taking over the penalty duties since Kane had already been substituted. He was fortunate that diving goalkeeper Hannes Thor Halldorsson did not catch his soft shot down the middle of goal with a foot.
England were down to 10 men at the time. Kyle Walker had marred his first England appearance since June of last year saw red in the 70th minute for a second yellow card.
Two minutes into stoppage time England also conceded a penalty. Joe Gomez lost concentration in defence and pulled back substitute Holmbert Fridjonsson. Fortunately Birkir Bjarnason shot his spot-kick high and wide.
Southgate said: “If we had scored the late penalty and that had been the end of it, we’d have been talking about a performance of great character. But then we gave away a really poor penalty so it feels like we got out of jail.
“Kyle knows the situation. We’ve gone out of tournaments before because we’ve been down to 10 men. It put us in a difficult situation and also we lose Kyle now for Denmark.”
Walker, under pressure for his place from Trent Alexander-Arnold, accepted the criticism.
He said: “I have to take full blame. I’m an experienced player and I should know that, when I’m on a yellow card, making another rash challenge is not acceptable. I’m a seasoned professional and I have played a lot of games. I should know how to manage a game if I’m on a yellow card.
“Fair play to the lads for digging in and fighting and getting the win we needed.”