History dictates anything with England once it gets to the knockout round of a major tournament is fraught with peril.
Missed penalty kicks (see quarterfinals, 2006 World Cup and 2004 Euros) and petulant red cards (Hi, David Beckham and Wayne Rooney!) serve as road marks on now 50 years of misery since the Three Lions liftedthe Jules Rimet trophy as World Cup host in 1966. They are consensus favorites against Iceland, a country writing the first chapter of its major tournament history in France.
History will also be the order of the day because to be the champ, you have to beat the champ. That is Italy’s task against Spain, which is seeking an unprecedented treble of European titles and can send the Azzurri packing in a knockout round of this tournament for a third straight time.
In the first match, Italy faces Spain in a rematch of the 2012 final, in which La Roja stormed to a 4-0 victory with a masterclass in ruthlessness and precision. While Italy played the last half-hour with 10 men after third and final substitute Thiago Motta injured his hamstring and conceded twice, the lasting image of that night in Kiev was Jordi Alba’s lung-bursting run as part of a 50-yard one-two with Xavi, running onto an inch-perfect through ball before one-touching it past Gianluigi Buffon late in the first half to give Spain a 2-0 lead and crush the hopes of the Azzurri.
Fast forward four years later to Monday’s contest in Saint-Denis. Spain has looked uneven at times in its bid for a third straight Euro title, and gave itself an arduous path to the title following its 2-1 loss to Croatia that cost it the top spot in Group D.
Italy must juggle its lineup after midfielder Antonio Candreva was ruled out of this contest with a thigh injury. Manager Antonio Conte has a few options at his disposal, among them morphing his preferred 3-5-2 alignment to a 3-4-3, but for the Azzurri, this may be a throwback to the “Catenaccio” days in which Italy sits back and is content to hit on the counter.
The second match features England against upstart Iceland, perhaps the best feel-good story among the newer teams to have reached France as part of the expanded field. On the 50th anniversary of their only major title, the Three Lions once again showed they prefer doing things the hard way, finishing second to Wales in their group after being held to a scoreless draw against Slovakia with a lineup that included six changes.
Manager Roy Hodgson has reversed virtually all those lineup switches, most notably re-inserting Harry Kane to lead the line over Jamie Vardy. But make no mistake, anything other than a win over Strakarnir Okkar will result in Hodgson’s sacking ahead of the start of World Cup qualifying for Russia.
And what of Iceland, which has somehow advanced despite barely having 30 percent possession when averaged out over all three matches? The defense has been resolute, the goals have been timely, and one could argue it was an own goal conceded to Hungary away from winning a group that featured Portugal and Austria.
There’s no longer the awe factor of being in this tournament _ Strakarnir Okkar flustered Cristiano Ronaldo into a draw, held Hungary at bay and put itself opposite England with Jon Dadi Bodvarsson’s injury-time goal against Austria. Ten percent of Iceland’s 330,000 people have been gleefully running around France, and like the team, they’ve giving 110 percent at those matches in that sea of blue at every venue.
For this lineup, building around England from the back provides flexibility to add some high-priced yet high-value Spaniards. Because those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.
This lineup is for the two round of 16 matches June 27 at the European Championship, using a 4-4-2 formation and a salary cap of $90,000 according to the rules of FanXT’s DFS contest.
Goalkeeper: Joe Hart, England ($8,060). It’s easy, almost too easy, to go the cheap route at this position with Buffon ($7,130) and Iceland’s Hannes Halldorsson ($7,030). Halldorsson is especially tempting given England’s lack of finishing in the final third except for one brilliant half to rally by Wales, and he could rack up points with saves (Halldorsson already has 19 saves). With Spain’s David De Gea high price, Hart is the de facto pick. The Three Lions will control possession much like they did throughout group play, and if they finally piece together an offense, it could result in a victory in which Hart may not have to do much for a clean sheet.
This is better than contemplating the alternate universe in which Halldorsson and Iceland drag England into penalty kicks.
Defenders: Kyle Walker, England ($7,810). Walker and fellow outside back Danny Rose embody the idiom “six of one, half-dozen of the other.” Given how compact Iceland will be defensively in its final third, Walker and Rose will have plenty of space to whip in crosses from the flank. Walker gets the edge here _ he’s slightly cheaper than Rose and has provided more chances thus far.
Eric Dier, England ($7,940). Dier has one of the three goals for the Three Lions, his free kick that nearly secured three points against Russia. He has sat in front of England’s back four, but with all the attacking options, the Spurs man has gotten forward plenty and surprisingly leads the team with nine shots. Dier is a good bet to add to that total as England tries to break down what will be a stubborn Icelandic defense.
Andrea Barzagli, Italy ($7,190). Barzagli has been a cap-friendly selection throughout the tournament in this space, but this time it’s admittedly nerve-wracking. Any sort of reconfiguration on defense is risky, more so against the two-time defending champions and their tiki-taka. The hope here is the catenaccio works and Italy keeps Spain in sight.
Sergio Ramos, Spain ($9,500). Missed penalty against Croatia aside, Ramos is like a more expensive version of Dier in the sense he finds space to get shots off. The Real Madrid defender has taken eight shots thus far, and while he’s on a yellow card, there shouldn’t be too many occasions where he opens himself to the possibility of getting a second.
Midfielders: Dele Alli, England ($7,750). Still a value pick as he and his merry band of Tottenham teammates try to power England into the quarterfinals, Alli’s flair could prove pivotal in breaking down Iceland. He notched the only assist for the Three Lions in group play, and he of all players has the ability to work on the same wavelength with Kane for scoring chances.
Gylfi Sigurdsson, Iceland ($7,690). Sigurdsson has nothing to fear facing England, he has more than held his own against its players toiling for Swansea City in the Premier League. He has been a relentless aerial fighter for Strakarnir Okkar, heading down balls to try and help open the midfield. Sigurdsson will make the most of whatever space England gives him, and he could make the Three Lions pay.
Andres Iniesta, Spain ($9,190). Still the maestro of La Roja, Iniesta completed 262 passes in group play but is also looking to bounce back from a lackluster effort against Croatia. He is tied for the team lead with 20 crosses and notched an assist in those three matches. How Iniesta deals with Italy flooding the midfield will go a long way in determining if the defending champions continue their bid for a third straight title.
Emanuele Giaccherini, Italy ($7,250). While teammate Daniele De Rossi will be pulling the strings for Italy’s offense when it has the ball, he’s probably not going to get forward often given Spain’s expected dominance of possession. The Bologna striker is going to be on the receiving end of those passes and will probably sit behind Graziano Pelle and Eder as the Azzurri’s primary scoring options in the run of play.
Forwards: Manuel Nolito, Spain ($7,940). Nolito was a non-factor against Croatia and was lifted on the hour for Bruno in Spain’s 2-1 defeat. He continues to do a little of everything and does find space to get shots for himself and handles the occasional corner kick. There’s some risk to this pick since manager Vicente Del Bosque could give Nolito another quick hook if he fails to produce, but the hedge here is the Celta Vigo striker provides some quality against Italy’s rejiggered defense and midfield.
Wayne Rooney, England ($9,500). First, the good news. The only way Rooney will leave the match against Iceland is either by being dragged off by wild horses or an injury so severe he can’t walk. So ends all the blather about what Hodgson will do with his Manchester United talisman. Rooney leads the team with 14 corners and three shots on target and also has provided 10 crosses _ he has been on the ball a lot and will be on the ball a lot in this match. While he will again lurk behind Kane and most likely Daniel Sturridge, this is the type of match where Rooney should call on his striker instincts and get inside the 18 because Walker and Rose should be pumping in crosses with regularity from the flanks into the box.
Total salary cost: $89,820 ($180 left over).
By Chris Altruda (@AlTruda73 on Twitter)