Football Features

“From outcast to outstanding” – Winners and Losers as Foden drives England to impale Iceland

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:07, 18 November 2020

In a one-sided night of football, England smashed 10-man Iceland 4-0 in their final Nations League game.

Gareth Southgate rotated his side but still managed to end this season’s Nations League adventure on a high with a lot of young players starring and showing the way for the future. Who were the winners and losers?

Winner: Phil Foden

The last time England played Iceland, Phil Foden was sent home (alongside Mason Greenwood) from the squad due to a breach of team discipline. It looked a potential bump in the roar for what had otherwise been a smooth road to success for the teenaged midfielder.

But after some time away, Foden was back in the squad this break and in the starting XI to play Iceland. And the Manchester City man stamped his authority all over the game. The young man was England’s focal player both in terms of creativity and goalscoring.

Foden’s beautiful curler of a free-kick allowed Declan Rice to head England into the lead. It was a stunning delivery from the left-footer and given how all of England’s other set-piece wizards (and they have a few!) are right-footed, Foden’s set-piece skill could be huge for Southgate’s men in the future.

And then there were the goals. Too often England’s midfielders are afraid to take the initiative and take a shot. Foden is not one of those midfielders. After first-half assist he bagged a second-half brace, first with a deliciously neat finish low across the goalkeeper and then with a long-range smash again low and into the back of the net.

Foden’s ability to stretch play and score goals (and, as he showed late on, stitch defenders up with pace and skill) is as unique and invaluable to Gareth Southgate’s England as Jack Grealish’s playmaking. Foden has gone from outcast to outstanding, and one only hopes that Gareth Southgate will afford Mason Greenwood the same chance at redemption before Euro 2021.

Loser: Mason Mount…’s critics

Mason Mount is a lightning rod for criticism because at times it can be very puzzling to understand what he can add to a team. When placed into a more advanced role he lacks the quickness of feet and the sublime skill and technique to really function, however start him in the midfield line and he comes to life as he did tonight next to childhood friend Declan Rice.

Mount got the start again, and while some people would have lamented that he once again demonstrated why Gareth Southgate continues to rely on him. He was a relentless force up and down the pitch and scored his side’s second goal with a crisp and clean finish. So yes, Mason Mount’s critics will have to deal with the fact that the Chelsea midfielder will be around for a while.

Winner: Declan Rice

Scoring your first international goal is always a big feat, and so Declan Rice deserves to be feted for pulling off and in a competitive game as well. Rice is so often the glue man in midfield, winning the ball and then passing it around simply to team-mates to keep play moving, that the thought of him getting a goal was laughable.

But he is a tall man, and he used that stature to good effect, racing onto Phil Foden’s free-kicks to head England into the lead. Rice’s near-post run showed attacking intelligence and the way he guided it in displayed technique. If he’s capable of that kind of heading skill then this goal could be the first of many in an England shirt.

Saying nothing of how well he played as an actual holding midfielder, where he was typically rock solid.

Winner: Gareth Southgate

Southgate put a young XI out against Iceland, with four of the side 21 years or younger (the first time that has happened since November 1959). He was rewarded with a fantastic display from the Three Lions, taking Iceland apart with three goalscorers aged 21 and under (the first time in over a century that has happened).

Winner: Bukayo Saka

England had something of a left-back problem brewing, where their first-choice option in the role, Ben Chilwell, appears to be somewhat injury-prone. And another problem back-up, Luke Shaw, is even more of a wreck with injuries. England recently played Kieran Trippier at left wing-back, which went about as badly as it sounds.

But across this international break and particularly tonight, Bukayo Saka has shown that he can help solve England’s left-back problem. An absurd dribbler, he’s naturally a winger but has such tactical intelligence and a high work-rate that he can function at left-back and when England play with wing-backs he just plays his natural game. Tonight Iceland couldn’t live with him and he rattled off 4 shots (bettered by only Kane and Foden) and created 2 chances, playing a big role in England’s second and third goals.

He’s only 19-years-old, but he’s already proven that he’s the answer.

Loser: Harry Kane

It’s hard to pick out any genuine losers from this England performance, but in a funny way Harry Kane is probably the biggest loser of the side. The skipper is obviously a world-class player and even played well against Iceland, registering a somewhat fortuitous assist for Mount’s goal. But Kane didn’t score himself, despite really obviously wanting to.

The Spurs striker had five shots, more than anyone else on the pitch as he tried so very hard to notch his first England goal in 2020; but he failed. And with no more international football until next year, thanks to his performance here 2020 will go down as the year Harry Kane didn’t score a goal for his country.

Not a tragedy, sure – and Kane did end the game with a game-high four chances created, but it is slightly worrying that Kane didn’t manage to notch after bagging 12 goals in 10 games the previous year. Is it just a blip? For the same of their performance at the Euros, Gareth Southgate will be hoping it is.