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John Stones gives England huge Euro 2024 injury scare against Iceland

England 0-1 Iceland (Thorsteinsson 12′)

WEMBLEY STADIUM — This was supposed to be a night of feelgood football at Wembley. Instead, it was one of frustration and angst.

A virtually full-strength England were humbled by Iceland. Now where have we heard that before? John Stones injured his ankle after 53 seconds and went off at half-time. And the supporters who streamed into the stadium with smiles on their faces booed their heroes off at half-time and full-time. This wasn’t what was supposed to happen.

Iceland scored once, should have had more and played with a freedom that a team can do when they don’t have a major tournament looming. For England, this was as much a damage limitation exercise as it was a warm-up for Serbia next Sunday, and it’s one that didn’t go particularly well.

Gareth Southgate named what looked like a first-choice starting XI, Jordan Pickford, Jude Bellingham and probably Bukayo Saka aside. The irreplaceables were all in: Stones at the heart of the defence; Declan Rice anchoring the midfield; Phil Foden pulling the strings; Harry Kane leading the line.

Of the up-for-grabs positions it seems as though Marc Guehi is being trusted to fill Harry Maguire’s size 12s, and Kobbie Mainoo has the edge over Adam Wharton in the battle of the up-and-coming midfield generals. Neither fully convinced in their final audition, but then no-one in white impressed. The players were in Londoon in body, but in their training base in Blankenhain in spirit.

Drawing definitive conclusions from a meaningless runaround is futile, but it’s safe to assume that England’s chances of winning the Euros will drop significantly if Stones is unable to play.

Kane remains England’s undisputed MVP, but Harry Maguire’s injury-enforced absence means Stones is a very close second. The 30-year-old has been a tournament mainstay under Southgate and has more than twice as many caps as the other four centre-backs combined.

There was a suitably loud silence inside Wembley when Stones crumpled to the turf in agony after Iceland’s Jon Dagur Thorsteinsson had landed on his right ankle after just 53 seconds. He soldiered on for the rest of the first-half but made way for Ezri Konsa at the interval. Southgate has his first injury concern of the tournament and it hasn’t even started yet.

“We decided at half-time there was no point in taking any chances because we’re obviously so close to the tournament and he’s a very important player for us,” said Southgate after the game and he also revealed that Guehi “is fine” after he took a ball to the face in the second half.

Stones’ injury worry set the tone. Iceland seized upon England’s anxiety to take a shock lead. It was a reasonably well-worked goal, but a calamity from an England perspective with numerous players drawn out of position as though being pulled on strings. Thorsteinsson scored it, capitalising upon Aaron Ramsdale’s rustiness by firing in at his near post.

England had chances but didn’t take them. Cole Palmer had the best ones, volleying straight at an Iceland defender when the goal gaped and hesitating twice when one-one-one with the keeper. Kane missed a sitter by his standards too, firing over on the volley from a cute Palmer cross. Foden skewed a shot wide that would probably have crept in had he taken it on in the sky blue of Manchester City. But Iceland were worthy winners.

The loudest cheers from the home fans came when a handful of the hundreds of paper planes launched into the sky touched down on the pitch. Yep, it was one of those nights. The DJ went straight for Freed from Desire at half-time to try and lighten the mood a bit. It didn’t work.

There was supposed to be a rousing send-off at full-time. Instead England’s players trudged around the pitch applauding a sea of red seats. England are Euro 2024 favourites but lost to a team that didn’t even make it. This was far from ideal preparation. A difficult night that raised more questions than provided answers.

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