England 0 Iceland 1: Mainoo’s audition, a disjointed press and are they really favourites?

So much for England’s celebratory send off for Euro 2024.

Gareth Southgate’s side conceded the first goal at the national stadium — yet again — and could only huff and puff in search of an equaliser as Iceland, who failed to qualify for this month’s tournament, secured an historic first win at Wembley. This was a downbeat way to finish preparations before the team depart for Germany.

Jon Dagur Thorsteinsson — once on Fulham’s books — scored the only goal of a disjointed occasion early on after cutting in off the left and firing a shot through John Stones’ legs and beyond the unsighted Aaron Ramsdale inside the near post. That rather sucked the optimism out of the occasion as the hosts struggled to break down massed defence.

Harry Kane spurned a fine opportunity to equalise from Cole Palmer’s delightful delivery, but there was grumbling discontent in the stands at the interval as the hosts trailed. Palmer himself went close to drawing them level after the break, but the few chances created were missed. There were boos at the final whistle.

Southgate and England must hope for better things when the competitive football starts next week. Rob Tanner and Liam Tharme were at Wembley to break down some of the main talking points from the game.

What is it about Wembley and conceding the first goal?

England have set a lot of records under Southgate, but this is one to which they would not want to lay claim: going 1-0 down in three consecutive Wembley games for the first time since November 1954, after doing so against Belgium and Brazil in March.

There was plenty to dislike about all three of the opening goals they shipped.

Belgium and Brazil both exploited England’s errors at the back, showing their cutting edge, but Iceland’s goal was an aggregation of bad defending. The home side did not press aggressively enough down the right and Iceland split the press with one pass; then John Stones over-committed himself to give a clear shot at goal and Aaron Ramsdale was caught out by the near-post shot.

These are not lapses England can afford at the Euros, especially with a makeshift defence.

Liam Tharme

Thorsteinsson fires Iceland ahead (Eddie Keogh – The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

Did Kobbie Mainoo prove he should be a starter?

Gareth Southgate’s starting lineup for the opening group game against Serbia seems written in stone, fitness permitting, except for one position — the third midfield spot.

The two main contenders to partner Declan Rice in the deeper lying roles seem to be Conor Gallagher and Kobbie Mainoo — Trent Alexander-Arnold might be an alternative option — and both have been given an opportunity to impress in the build-up to the tournament. But on the evidence of this, it is the Manchester United man who seems the most likely to start against Serbia in Gelsenkirchen next week in the deeper brief behind Jude Bellingham.

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Mainoo was making only his third England appearance (Ryan Pierse – The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

Mainoo combined well with Rice against Iceland and there seemed to be decent communication between the two. The teenager, who looks comfortable taking the ball in tight situations on the turn and playing forward, certainly played the more advanced of the two, but when Rice did venture forward Mainoo was quick to drop in and cover.

He even encouraged Rice, by far the more experienced man, to throw of his defensive shackles at one stage in the first half. This is a kid full of confidence.

Against top-class opposition, England’s recently flung-together back four cannot be left exposed, so much will hinge upon how the deep-lying midfield pairing cover for the full-backs, Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier, when they inevitably fly forward. Discipline will be key.

Rob Tanner

Is this defence solid enough?

England’s defence was under question before the game even kicked off.

Southgate’s decision to cut Harry Maguire for physical reasons and Jarrad Branthwaite for form (and timing so early into his career) meant ripping up of the established Maguire-Stones partnership that had served three major tournaments. In Marc Guehi and Lewis Dunk, Southgate had picked two right-footed left centre-backs and no natural left-back outside them.

There were worries over balance and experience.

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Marc Guehi was solid, but England were not (Robin Jones/Getty Images)

Truth be told, Guehi was solid. He and Stones had only started together once before — in England’s 4-0 Nations League defeat to Hungary in 2022. Ezri Konsa replaced an injured Stones at half-time, but England’s defensive issues lay further forward.

Their pressing lacked intensity and, in the first half especially, it was disjointed, offering Iceland’s back-line time and space to pick passes through midfield and exposing the defence. Twice in the second half they got in behind and England had to scramble.

For a country who only conceded twice and not at all from open play at Euro 2020, England need to find defensive solutions — fast.

Liam Tharme

Do England look like favourites to win Euro 2024?

England’s display against Iceland did nothing to justify their status as one of the favourites to win Euro 2024. The likes of Spain, France and Germany will hardly be quaking in their boots having watched this team’s preparations from afar.

Sure, they will look at the attacking talent at Southgate’s disposal and realise England will be a big threat in that department. A front four of Phil Foden, Jude Bellingham, Harry Kane and Bakary Saka, with Cole Palmer, Anthony Gordon and the wildcard that is Eberechi Eze to come on when defences are tiring, looks as strong an attack as any. But various combinations of those lavish talents only fired in fits and starts across the warm-up games.

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Gordon had some bright moments against Iceland (Catherine Ivill – AMA/Getty Images)

And there are certainly questions marks elsewhere in the team.

Stones was hurt when Thorsteinsson fell on his right ankle early on and was visibly discomforted in the moments that followed. He did not come out for the second half. Southgate can hardly contemplate life without three of his preferred back four through injury (with Luke Shaw unlikely to play until the second group game at the earliest), leaving a makeshift rearguard with inexperience at its heart and imbalanced with right footers.

Attack may be their best form of defence, but if they are gung-ho their soft underbelly could be exposed, as it was by Iceland. As exciting as England may be going forward — on paper at least — there could be some nervy moments at the back, too.

To be tournament winners they need a solid foundation, as history has repeatedly shown. Ask the Italians.

Rob Tanner

What did Gareth Southgate say?

We will bring you the best of what the England manager said once he has concluded his post-match media duties.

What next for England?

Sunday, June 16: Serbia (Arena AufSchalke), Euro 2024 Group C, 8pm UK, 3pm ET

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(Top photo: Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images))

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