ANNECY, France (Reuters) - Iceland’s joint coach Lars Lagerback has never lost to England and he wants his players to maintain his unbeaten run and continue their sensational streak at Euro 2016 when the two sides play in the last 16 on Monday.
Lagerback faced the English six times as Sweden coach and stayed unbeaten and he now hopes Iceland, the tournament’s surprise team, will stretch that run.
European minnows Iceland capped a sensational group stage campaign with a 2-1 win over Austria on Wednesday to advance to the knockout stage in their first tournament appearance.
“We played them (England) six times when I was coach of Sweden and never lost. We hope to keep that going,” Lagerback told reporters.
“We have shown we are getting better and better every year, we are a team that is difficult to break down. Hopefully we can keep on going but we expect a really tough game.”
Iceland finished second on five points in Group F behind Hungary on goal difference to tee up an encounter with Roy Hodgson’s team in Nice on Monday.
“Of course it would be nice to keep the good record against one of the best football countries in the world going,” he said.
The win over Austria sparked wild celebrations back in Iceland but Lagerback said his players were far more reserved.
“It was rather calm (in the changing room). The players were very tired after leaving the pitch. The flight home was calm and the bus trip was calm and the dinner was calm. You could feel everyone was very happy.”
England coach Hodgson is a long-time friend of Lagerback, with the two men meeting back in 1976 when the 68-year-old Englishman was starting his coaching career at Sweden’s Halmstads BK.
“One of my friends, I regard him as that,” said the Swede. “I got to know him in ‘76. Roy is taking everything seriously. He is one of the better coaches I met and I have a lot of respect for him.”
Yet he is hoping to get one over his friend and secure another major scalp.
“We have a realistic chance. We can put some questions to the English team, I don’t know how good questions they will be. Iceland are always the underdogs. The first round of a competition is nice but this is a bit special.”
Asked whether Iceland could emulate the surprise European Championship victory of outsiders Greece in 2004, he said: “You always have a realistic chance to win football games. Greece was a really, really big surprise. If we win it I would be a little surprised.”
Writing by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Toby Davis