Raheem Sterling praised England for finding “something deep within” as his penalty snatched a late 1-0 Nations League win over Iceland.
Gareth Southgate’s side laboured for long periods against the nation who famously humiliated the Three Lions at Euro 2016.
Kyle Walker’s 70th-minute red card further complicated matters but Sverrir Ingason joined the Manchester City full-back in receiving his marching orders when he handled Sterling’s shot in the final minute.
With Harry Kane having been replaced by debutant Mason Greenwood, the responsibility fell to Sterling, who stroked his spot-kick down the centre of the goal.
“As soon as I got the ball I said ‘straight down the middle’,” he told Sky Sports. “It’s the 90th minute, I knew the keeper wouldn’t stand straight in the middle, so I was quite confident.”
England then almost instantly threw away their hard-earned gains, with Joe Gomez clumsily impeding substitute Holmbert Fridjonsson in the box.
Birkir Bjarnason stepped up but blazed woefully off target, providing a somewhat fitting conclusion to what was often a slightly disorientating contest.
“We knew it would be difficult and we had to challenge ourselves, find something deep within,” Sterling said. “We said if there’s any setbacks in the game – we didn’t expect the red card – we kept playing our football.
“We kept trying to probe, we kept trying to create chances, we kept compact. We got the penalty in the end.
“We shouldn’t have conceded that sloppy penalty, but we got lucky at the end.”
Sterling’s club team-mate Phil Foden made his international debut in the starting XI and he feels the playmaker’s breakthrough, along with that of Greenwood, points towards a bright future.
“Phil, Mason – he’s a player I’ve been excited by and I’m glad to be playing with,” the 25-year-old added.
“Phil is a player who gets on the ball, one or two touches, and he’s sharp. It’s a bright future ahead. We just need to keep growing as a team and each camp we can see that’s happening.”
Southgate’s men return to action against Denmark in Group A2 on Tuesday.
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