This final game of the qualifying campaign had nothing riding on it with England’s hopes of reaching the finals. It ended by defeat in Belgium, and Iceland without a point in Group A2. It was a game where Gareth Southgate’s emerging youngsters like Phil Foden staked their claims.
Declan Rice headed England in front with his first international goal after 20 minutes. Mason Mount added a second from close range four minutes later.
Manchester City’s Phil Foden, only 20 and back in the fold after being dropped for breaking Covid-19 protocols in September. He also demonstrated his huge potential and growing maturity on the international stage. He showed a fine performance and late strikes as he swept in Jadon Sancho’s pass for his first England goal with 10 minutes left before quickly adding a second with a low shot.
England’s players are still fighting for places in next summer’s European Championship. The likes of Phil Foden, Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish and Arsenal’s teenage defender Bukayo Saka took the chance to impress manager Southgate.
Iceland were reduced to 10 men in the second half. Birkir Saevarsson was shown a second yellow card for dragging back Saka as England dominated.
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Foden’s glittering talent shines through
Foden learned a harsh lesson when he was sent home from Iceland and dropped from the next round of England games after breaking Covid-19 protocols in September.
Southgate punished the youngster. He rehabilitated him in the squad and was rewarded with a demonstration of just what he can bring to England, now and in the future.
Phil Foden is a bundle of talent and confidence. It was his delivery that offered the invitation for Rice to score the opener. He got the goals his performance deserved late on to push himself right to the forefront of Southgate’s thoughts.
It was summed up in the closing seconds when he showed remarkable skill to pull down a misplaced, skied, clearance from Harry Maguire, controlling and flicking it behind a bemused Icelandic defender.
He made his mistake, paid for it, and showed at Wembley why he is regarded as one of the great hopes for Manchester City and England.
In what has been mixed Nations League campaign for England, Foden illuminated a deserted Wembley.
Young stars give Southgate food for thought
Rice, like Foden, also scored his first England goal on Wednesday night
Southgate defended his side’s approach in the wake of the defeat against Belgium, amid suggestions his ploy of using a 3-4-3 formation with two holding midfield players was too conservative.
Here, with Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson unavailable because of injury, Southgate continued with Rice and Mount but also used both Grealish and Foden to add creativity.
And, in their different ways, all four made a big impact as England won a game that often had the intensity of a training work-out.
Grealish carried on where he left off in Leuven. Carrying the ball into dangerous areas, wandering into space and continuing to draw fouls in threatening positions, while Foden was the star of the show.
Saka was another stand-out performer, solid in defence and dangerous in attack. He could have had goals himself but did enough to suggest he will be a serious contender for starting place in future.
Southgate now has until March to weigh up his plans as the Euros come closer and that young brigade will be at the forefront of his mind.
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‘Whenever you play for England there’s something to play for’
England boss Gareth Southgate: “For the last three days the mentality has been outstanding. It was a very difficult game.
“If all they’re hearing are messages it’s meaningless and there’s nothing to play for. Whenever you play for England there is something to play for. There are big opportunities for young players, especially, and also for older players.
“We are trying to build and improve all the time. There was some lovely football. It was good to watch and for the young players to get the goals was very special for them.”
On Foden: “I am really pleased for him. He is such an exciting player. It was a big week for him to come back in and, of course, not easy to walk through the door when you left how you did previously.
“But for us, it was done. We knew what he is capable of and it was good to get him into the game against Ireland. And to get the two goals today was a glimpse for everyone of what he is capable of.”
Foden breaks Charlton’s record – the stats
England have won 20 of their last 22 competitive internationals at Wembley, scoring 66 goals and conceding only eight.
Iceland have lost all 10 of their Nations League matches, managing to score just four goals.
England have won their two home international matches against Iceland by an aggregate score of 10-1.
Phil Foden became the youngest player in England’s history to score more than once in a match at Wembley. Aged 20 years and 174 days, breaking the record held by Bobby Charlton in May 1958 versus Portugal (20 years and 208 days).
England had three players aged 21 or younger score in the same match for the first time since February 1883 versus Ireland. That is William Cobbold, Oliver Whateley and Frank Pawson.
Declan Rice became the first West Ham United player to score for England since Matthew Upson in June 2010 against Germany, and the second-youngest Hammers player to score for the Three Lions (21 years and 309 days) after Joe Cole in June 2003 (21 years and 207 days).
Since his debut in September against Denmark, Jack Grealish has won 21 fouls for England, more than any other player. While only Kieran Tripper (10) has created more chances than Grealish in this time (nine).
England named four players aged 21 or younger (Saka, Foden, Rice and Mount) in their starting XI for a competitive international for the first time since November 1959 versus Northern Ireland in a Home Nations match.