Roy Hodgson admits there are no prizes for playing nice football and has urged England to show their “ruthless” side against Iceland.
The enthralling comeback win against neighbours Wales was easily the Three Lions’ stand-out moment of Group B, yet the displays against Russia and Slovakia were arguably more convincing.
Both matches ended in draws due to a lack of ruthlessness that instead allowed Chris Coleman’s men to top the group, leading to a frustration that lingers ahead of the last-16 clash with Iceland.
Hodgson knows a similarly toothless display on Monday could well lead to an embarrassing exit, which has prompted a renewed intensity and purpose in their preparation.
“We need to be as ruthless as we can possibly be because we know there are no prizes, unfortunately, for playing what some people might think is good football,” the England manager said at the Stade de Nice.
“It’s all about winning or losing and staying in or going out, and we have been very brutal with ourselves in that respect and we have a very brutal focus. We made it very clear amongst ourselves that it doesn’t matter that we, in our eyes, are playing well.
“All that matters is that we haven’t won, and when you don’t win you get criticised and perhaps rightly so because there’s always a reason why you haven’t won.
“I’ve been very keen to point out to the players – although I’ve not encountered any opposition – that we’ve got to make certain that we turn what we think is domination in some games, or imposing our game onto opponents, into wins.
“If we don’t, then it’s not going to be good enough, and we’re going to be disappointed because we think we have quite a good team and we think we play good football.
“But unfortunately in a tournament, in particular, even more than in qualifying, it’s all about if you win or do you not win and as a result we didn’t win against Russia, Slovakia we didn’t win. That’s what we’ve been working on.
“(Monday) is the ultimate test because if we don’t win (on Monday) that’s the end for us. All our focus is on getting through that game and then we will see where it takes us because if we do get through the game then who knows? Maybe it will be give us a bit of a boost.”
Hosts and favourites France await the winners at the quarter-final juncture, although securing that tie will be tougher than odds of 1/6 on England progressing suggest.
Wayne Rooney has called for his team-mates to enjoy the pressure of being favourites, and Hodgson, who is controversially set to recall Raheem Sterling to the starting XI, was undecided as to whether the must-win nature is a help or hindrance.
“I think the day you stop concerning yourself, worrying about it, thinking about it, that’s the day when you’ve lost the interest in the work,” he said.
“I suppose the simple answer to the question is, no, I can’t divorce myself in that way.
“As you get older with more experience, you do force yourself to only worry about the things you can change, the things you can do to make certain that when you look in the mirror, as the players go out onto the field, you can look at yourself and say, ‘what else could I have done?'”
Hodgson was keen to highlight that it is down to players to win matches rather than coaches, but their impact is highlighted by Lars Lagerback’s work with Iceland.
Unbeaten in six previous encounters with England, his arrival on the North Atlantic island five years ago has seen them scale new heights.
Hodgson has known Lagerback for around 40 years and is wary of the threat posed by his long-term friend’s team.
“There is no doubt about what he has done,” the England boss said of Lagerback, sat alongside captain Rooney. “I think he brings a calm to teams. He certainly brings organisation.
“I’ve seen Iceland in their three games – they are so compact, they work so hard for each other and they are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifices.
“And then of course he uses what weapons he finds at his disposal. He find himself with a guy called (Aron) Gunnarsson who throws the ball in a bit like Rory Delap so they work hard on that aspect of the game.
“That’s all you can do. He doesn’t have the wealth of talent at his disposal that I believe I have as England manager. But as you heard Wayne say, only 11 play and if you happen to get a good 11 you can cause some so-called more talented individuals a lot of problems. It won’t be an easy game.”