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04 July 2016

Watch: France make short work of Iceland to coast into Euro 2016 semi-final

francefootball1There was almost a stunned disbelief around the Stade de France at the break as the host nation walked off with a 4-0 advantage, two of them coming in the closing minutes of the half.

Olivier Giroud’s low strike and Paul Pogba’s powerful header from a corner had settled early French nerves and put their side in control.

Dimitri Payet scored his third goal of an increasingly memorable tournament for the West Ham playmaker with a precise low strike from 20 yards that skidded across the greasy surface before Antoine Griezmann deftly lifted the ball over Iceland goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson.

After the restart Kolbeinn Sigthorsson stabbed home at the near post from Gylfi Sigurdsson’s cross as Iceland refused to give in before France restored their four-goal advantage when Giroud headed in a free-kick.

Still, there was more to cheer for the excellent Iceland fans when Birkir Bjarnason headed a second for his side in the final stages of what has been a remarkable tournament debut for their team.

Didier Deschamps’ side had only conceded twice in the tournament before meeting Iceland – both penalties – but they had not scored in the opening half of a match and only really shown in flashes that they can reproduce on the pitch the ability they appear to have on paper.

That changed at a wet but atmospheric Stade de France on Sunday.

Griezmann had not scored in 648 minutes of football for France at this ground but he ended that with his composed, delicate finish.

In some ways the goal was everything that was best about France; a patient 14-pass move that ended with a moment of invention to open up the opposition. A raking ball forward was superbly dummied by Giroud, completely bamboozling the Iceland defence and giving Griezmann a clear run at goal.

The goal took Griezmann to four in the tournament and he is now the highest scorer at Euro 2016, with Payet and Giroud among several players one behind.

But even though France were very comfortable winners, it was far from a flawless performance.

Iceland created several decent chances – Jon Dadi Bodvarsson shot over from a good position in the first half and Hugo Lloris made a brilliant save to stop a Sverrir Ingason header after the restart – in addition to their two goals.

After defeating the Republic of Ireland and Iceland in the knockout stages, France will face a very different challenge against a German side with a lot more attacking capability.

Portugal skipper Cristiano Ronaldo rather sourly remarked that Iceland would “not go on to do anything” after their 1-1 draw at the start of the group stage. How wrong he was.

Their exploits at Euro 2016 have not only done wonders for spreading the word about Iceland’s modest population (329,000 in case you had not heard) but captivated a nation and been one of the feel-good stories of a tournament that has desperately needed them.

They not only defied the odds by qualifying from the group stage – including a dramatic late winner against Austria – but also deservedly eliminated England in a match that they will surely never forget before running into a red-hot France.

Under the calm and steady joint stewardship of part-time dentist Heimir Hallgrimsson and former Sweden boss Lars Lagerback they showed what can be achieved through determination and organisation.

Even after they were on the wrong end of a 4-0 half-time scoreline against Les Blues, they showed the character and passion to ‘win’ the second half 2-1, cheered all the way by their magnificent fans, who gave the tournament the incredible hand clap.

Man of the match – Antoine Griezmann

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Inventive, alert and always involved, the Atletico Madrid star buzzed along and just behind the front line and was at the heart of so many good things for the French.

What the players said

Iceland striker Kolbeinn Sigthorsson: “Our defending didn’t work out as we wanted, but it’s not strange that we’re tired after so many games with the same squad. We got back into it in the second half, we showed a lot of character to do that, and we’re really happy that we won the second half.”

Iceland captain Aron Gunnarsson: “We are disappointed but incredibly proud. It’s been an amazing experience. A lot of hard work has gone into this and the fans have been fantastic.

“[Speaking after the final whistle] They are still singing, it’s unbelievable. The French have all left. They are still here. It just shows what we put into this.

“The first half was terrible, we managed to play better after the break. We decided we could not leave like that. We will learn from this. We are just starting.”

France midfielder Dimitri Payet: “We managed to score a lot of goals, we scored quickly compared to previous fixtures.

“We have a lot of quality going forward. This was our best performance. We worked all week on Iceland’s strengths, we were aware of that.”

France striker Olivier Giroud: “We’re very pleased, we scored five goals. Although we did concede a couple, we had a lot of fun and are pleased with our performance. We’re going to try to erase a few of these small defensive mistakes, because against Germany we’d pay a heavy price.”

What’s next?

It was not the end they wanted but Iceland can nevertheless return home with a lifetime of memories and a whole heap of new friends. They can look forward to World Cup qualifying in a group that contains fellow Euro 2016 sides Ukraine, Turkey and Croatia.

France can look forward to that tasty semi-final against Germany in Marseille. The winner of that faces Wales or Portugal back at the Stade de France.

The game in numbers

12: France are still unbeaten in games with Iceland (W9 D3 L0).

17: France have not lost in their last 17 major tournament games played on home soil, winning 15 and drawing two.

5: France have scored five headers at Euro 2016 – a record by a team in a single European Championship.

4: France are the first team to score four in the first half of a European Championship game.

10: Olivier Giroud has scored 10 goals in his last nine starts for France. He has netted seven goals in eight games for Les Blues in 2016.

5: Iceland attempted more shots on target in this game than all four of France’s previous opponents at Euro 2016 combined (three).

5: Iceland became the first team in history to name an unchanged starting XI in their opening five games of a Euros.

1: Samuel Umtiti was the first outfield player to win his first cap for France in a major tournament since Gabriel de Michele at the 1966 World Cup. He ended with a 100% pass accuracy from 77 passes.

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