England's woes stretch into more years of hurt
NICE, France (AP) For England, the 2016 European Championship will be a tournament few will ever forget - for all the wrong reasons.
The tournament started with hooligans running amok in Marseille and ended with one of the national team's most humiliating defeats.
The 2-1 loss to tiny Iceland in the round of 16 on Monday in Nice has prompted the usual questions back home.
Are England's footballers overly pampered-millionaires who lack patriotism? Are they crushed by unrealistic expectations that prompt them to play with fear? Or are they not good enough, ''not fit to wear the shirt'' as the fans howled at them after another crushing loss?
These are traditional post-mortems that stretch back decades. Bar a couple of semifinals in the 1990s, England hasn't caused a stir at a major tournament since winning the World Cup in 1966, its only major triumph.
Goalkeeper Joe Hart said he was ''lost for words'' after the defeat, but pre-emptively defended the team against any suggestion they hadn't tried hard enough.
''I just want people to know how much we put onto this tournament and it's not down to desire or anything like that,'' he said.
Co-coached by a practicing dentist, Iceland fully deserved its victory. Well-drilled and tactically astute, it was comfortable for much of the match.
England's players just couldn't come up with a game plan and even resorted to long balls down the middle - a throwback to less-technical times in the English game. Wayne Rooney, in his new more central midfield role, struggled to control the ball and make the most basic of passes.
''It would be impossible not to have the expectations that we had, to have a positive mindset to go into this tournament,'' Hart said. ''They look foolish now. We've gone out to Iceland. We are going to have to own that.''
Maybe England should just accept it's not a major footballing power. After all, it's now half a century since England won the World Cup.
Since Marcus Rashford, the youngest member of England's squad, was born in 1997, England has won just two international tournament knockout games, the last one a decade ago. Those wins were against Ecuador and Denmark, neither team which can usually boast anything like England's talent.
''At the moment I'm gutted, but I can't separate it from the other times,'' said Rooney, who has experienced little but disappointment since he burst onto the international stage at Euro 2004.
Each failure piles more pressure on the English players' shoulders. That is accentuated by the fact that the Premier League is the world's wealthiest and has the biggest contingent of all at Euro 2016 with 106 players.
Unquestionably, the Iceland defeat has caused dismay and despair back home but England will have to re-adjust, qualify for the 2018 World Cup and then, perhaps, consider it has a chance there.
Coach Roy Hodgson, who quit after the Iceland defeat, has already voiced optimism about the future given that the team was one of the youngest team at Euro 2016, with the likes of Dele Alli in midfield and Rashford himself. The fallout from the Iceland loss, though, threatens to stunt their international careers.
''It is hard to see it now but the future is bright,'' Rooney insisted.
Perhaps so, but England has far to go.