LONDON (AFP) – Iceland will forever bear a scar for English football after an embarrassing exit at Euro 2016 to a country with a population of less than one per cent than the pool on offer to the Three Lions.
Four years on, the nations meet tomorrow (midnight Brunei time) in the Nations League for the first time since that fateful night in Nice with the visitors in Reykjavik much changed in personnel and mentality.
Only six of the squad from Euro 2016 remain.
Among them captain Harry Kane, 27, and Raheem Sterling, 25, are now the senior figures in a squad filled with youth, flair and far less fear than the side that were wracked by self-doubt after falling 2-1 behind just 18 minutes into that famous defeat to Iceland.
Phil Foden, 20, and Mason Greenwood, 18, have been handed their first senior call-ups after impressing for Manchester City and Manchester United respectively since football returned from the coronavirus shutdown in June.
They could be two of the beneficiaries of the delay to the European championships for a year with England one of the favourites for a tournament they will largely play on home soil next summer.
“They are realistic challengers,” said England boss Gareth Southgate on Foden and Greenwood’s prospects for Euro 2020.
For most other nations and even many years in England’s recent past, they would be certainties.
But both have to fight their way into one of the most star-studded front lines in international football already boasting Kane, Sterling, Greenwood’s Manchester United teammate Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho of Borussia Dortmund, who has also been linked with a move to Old Trafford this summer for more than GBP100 million.
“If you are within football then you have known about these two young players for a long time,” Southgate added.
“You only have to speak with their clubs. We have known from our junior teams with England, the impact that they have had. Then the question is at what point do you give them the step up to play.
“We’re a year away from a European Championship, let’s see if they can start to break into that team and into that squad. It gives us great competition for places.”
Neither player seems to lack confidence when it comes to making an impact on international football.
Greenwood has been hailed by former England greats Alan Shearer and Wayne Rooney for his ability to finish clinically off either foot that saw him score 19 goals in his breakthrough season for United.
Shearer has claimed his record of 260 Premier League goals could be under threat and Greenwood did not shy away from that target when he faced the media this week.
“Any young football player would want to break records – and if you didn’t, there’s something wrong,” he said.
“It’s always nice to have visions and goals you set in your football career and that goes for virtually any England forward, really.
“Just go out there and do your best and break records and just be remembered forever.”
Foden also has lofty ambitions as he admitted he hopes to be the man to fill David Silva’s shoes at City next season.
Named player of the tournament when England won the under-17 World Cup three years ago, Foden also differs from previous generations that have failed to live up to expectations by already experiencing success at international level.
He and England’s new generation still have to prove themselves at senior level, but they are providing far more cause for optimism than the crop that will forever be remembered for crumbling to Iceland.