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England must be 'far better' after losing to Iceland in final Euro tuneup

Mike Egerton - PA Images / PA Images / Getty

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Gareth Southgate insisted England's embarrassing 1-0 defeat against Iceland in their final warm-up before Euro 2024 will serve as a useful reality check for his title contenders.

Southgate's side had hoped for a confidence-boosting victory at Wembley on Friday before travelling to Germany as one of the Euro favourites.

But Jon Dagur Thorsteinsson's first half goal spoiled England's farewell and led to the lacklustre hosts being booed off at half-time and the final whistle.

Against a team ranked 72nd in the world, who were unable to qualify for the Euros, Cole Palmer, Anthony Gordon and Kobbie Mainoo all failed to make compelling cases to be included in the starting line-up at the Euros.

"We have to be better. We didn't get our pressing right. There were questions asked that we weren't able to answer," Southgate said.

"It was obviously a disjointed and disappointing performance. We didn't show enough character, but I think it's a really good focus for us ahead of the tournament.

"I'm confident we will be better than tonight. Everybody's saying we're going to go there and walk through the tournament. The reality of international football isn't that."

Adding to Southgate's worries, John Stones didn't reappear after the interval, possibly a precautionary move after the England centre-back fell awkwardly in the first half.

"We think he is probably okay. We didn't want to take the chance," Southgate said.

Southgate said his starting line-up was "close" to the team that will face Serbia in England's Group C opener in Gelsenkirchen on June 16.

If that is the case, he will need to coax a substantially improved effort from a group that looked short on energy and composure in the absence of resting Real Madrid star Jude Bellingham.

Bored fans spent most of the night entertaining themselves by buzzing the pitch with paper aeroplanes and few stayed for the post-match lap of honour.

"You'd like a good performance and to be leaving on a high. We didn't play well enough to keep them excited," said Southgate, whose side have won one of their last five games.

While Southgate can point out that this result will count for nothing when England start their bid to win a first major trophy in 58 years, it was still an alarming performance that raised questions about key areas of his team.

'No excuses'

With just two clean-sheets in their last seven games, England's defensive frailties were concerning for Southgate.

"We've got to be far better without the ball and we've got to show more composure with it," he said.

"These last games going into tournaments can be like that because players are worried about picking up an injury.

"We can't hide the fact that we have a lot of physical issues. We haven't had the core of the team together yet.

"We need to stay calm. No excuses on the result but there are a lot of things we can put right quickly. It actually gives us a chance to focus the mind."

Southgate showed a rarely seen ruthless edge on Thursday when he axed Jack Grealish, James Maddison and the injured Harry Maguire from his 26-man squad.

Whether those decisions prove wise will be determined over the next month in Germany, but the absence of Maguire could be especially damaging.

Marc Guehi replaced Maguire alongside Stones in England's central defence, but the pair delivered a shaky effort, with Ezri Konsa faring little better after his second half introduction.

Iceland famously inflicted one of England's most humiliating defeats when they beat Roy Hodgson's team in the last 16 at Euro 2016.

Although this defeat won't rank alongside that evening in Nice, Thorsteinsson's 12th minute goal was a painful moment for England.

Running at Stones with intent, Thorsteinsson cut inside before unleashing a low strike from the edge of the area that beat Aaron Ramsdale at his near post.

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