Phil Foden netted twice as England’s new generation staked their claim for a place at next summer’s European Championship and brought a challenging year to a convincing end against Iceland.
From Harry Maguire’s Greek court case and the high-profile bubble breach by Mason Greenwood and Foden, to injury headaches, empty stands and his own bout of Covid-19, this has been a tough autumn for Three Lions boss Gareth Southgate.
But a strange, testing and truncated international year came to a comfortable conclusion at Wembley, where Foden netted his first England goals after efforts from Declan Rice and Mason Mount to seal a 4-0 win.
Southgate kept to his pre-match pledge to name a strong side for the final match of 2020, despite Sunday’s loss in Belgium meaning the Three Lions would end up third in Group A2 having finished third in the inaugural Nations League.
Juggling player protection, club pressures and the need to progress ahead of the Euros, England’s starting line-up for the dead rubber against relegated Iceland included four players aged 21 or younger in a competitive match for the first time since 1959.
Foden – making his first start since the Iceland incident that saw him sent home in September – was among that quartet and sent a free-kick over for another of those youngsters to score his first Three Lions goal as Rice glanced home.
The others were soon involved as Iceland failed to deal with a Bukayo Saka cross and Mount smartly struck home during a one-sided first half in which England got away 10 shots and Jack Grealish again impressed.
Birkir Saevarsson was sent off for a second bookable offence as matters worsened early in the second half for Iceland, who could have been playing this Group A2 finale in Albania or Germany was it not for a UK government exemption.
England remained on top with their man advantage and Foden came to the fore late on, swiftly following up his first international goal with a laser from distance.
Both teams wore black armbands in remembrance of former England goalkeeper Ray Clemence, with a yellow shirt bearing his name displayed behind Jordan Pickford’s goal as part of the tributes.
The England number one did not have much to do in Wednesday’s dead rubber, but early bookings for Saevarsson and Kyle Walker showed both sides were up for it.
Iceland dug deep and frustrated the home side during the early stages, but Foden’s 20th-minute free-kick to the near post brought the opener as Rice’s glancing touch found the net.
The goal may have been from a set piece but it unshackled England.
Saka’s strike into the ground from a Grealish cutback was thwarted by a one-handed stop by Ogmundur Kristinsson, who would be beaten in the 24th minute.
Saka was again involved as Iceland failed to deal with his clipped cross, with Mount capitalising by smartly dropping a shoulder and tucking in from close range.
England were in cruise control and Foden was determined to mark his second start by opening his international account, with a close-range shot denied before another was tipped around the post.
Joining his best mate on the scoresheet!— England (@England) November 18, 2020
Harry Kane looked just as determined to find the net, with the skipper getting away shots whenever getting a sniff and coming closest when bending a curling effort just wide.
Iceland’s uphill battle became even tougher shortly after half-time, with Saevarsson picked up a second yellow card after pulling back Saka.
England continued in the ascendancy as Kane saw a shot blocked on the turn before Saka’s snapshot was denied, but changes were taking the sting out of proceedings.
Grealish was replaced to rest legs that dealt with some hefty challenges and the hosts had penalty appeals rejected before finally breaking Iceland’s resolve.
Substitute Jadon Sancho passed in for former Manchester City team-mate Foden to sweep home his first international goal in the 80th minute.
The 20-year-old looked like he was enjoying himself and added another from distance, hitting a low strike from 25 yards that fizzed home.
Maguire saw a shot tipped around the post and Saka missed as the match somehow only ended with four goals.
Get the best features, fun and footballing frolics straight to your inbox every week.
Thank you for signing up to Four Four Two. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.