Iceland takes on England, the team it's cheered from afar

NICE, France (AP) " Brought up on a regular supply of the Premier League, Iceland's players are used to cheering on England at major soccer tournaments.

Now, they're trying to eliminate them.

In what appears to be the biggest mismatch of the European Championship's round of 16, Iceland " the smallest nation ever to appear at the tournament " will attempt to deliver yet another shock by beating England in Nice on Monday.

Elimination would be an embarrassment, and surely cost Roy Hodgson his job.

"Iceland has to have the perfect game," said its joint-coach Heimir Hallgrimsson, who also runs a dentist surgery in his home town in Iceland. "And we know that even when Iceland has the best performance they have ever had, we can still lose against nations like England."

The two teams have had strikingly similar tournaments so far. Both advanced as runner-up in their groups after two draws and a win secured by a stoppage-time goal.

But that's about the scale of the similarities.

England is one of the big names in international soccer " albeit an underperforming one " with globally recognized players.

In contrast, the casual soccer fan would barely be able to name one Iceland player. Only perhaps goal-scoring midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson, who has played in the English league for most of his career.

"It's purely and simply (about) preparation now," Hodgson said this week, "making sure the players know as much as we can tell them about Iceland and the type of game they're likely to face."

That won't be a problem for Iceland, which has a population of about 330,000 people.

"They (England) won't know much about the Iceland players," Hallgrimsson said, "but we know everything about the England players."

In the last 10 years, England has won just one game in the knockout stage of a major competition " against Ecuador in the last 16 of the 2006 World Cup. It's a sorry record for a country of England's standing, and Hodgson is highly unlikely to get a new contract if his team gets knocked out on Monday.

"We're doing our best for the team, for him (Hodgson) and for our country," striker Harry Kane said.

Iceland, which is appearing at its first major tournament, has been relying on a robust defensive unit and quick counter-attacks in France. So far, it has worked, neutralizing Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal and then beating Austria 2-1 at the Stade de France to clinch a last-16 spot.

"This is the biggest achievement in Iceland's sports history," Iceland defender Ragnar Sigurdsson said. "We have a world-class handball team. They have always been the main guys in Iceland. But now football is a bigger sport and we are here.

"In the moment we are the heroes, but people also forget quickly."

They won't if Iceland pulls off another stunning result.

The winner plays either France or Ireland in the quarterfinals.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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