France dash Iceland’s dreams with ruthless efficiency

The hosts burst out of the blocks to put any Icelandic resistance to bed early on in Paris

France’s Olivier Giroud scores the fifth goal against Iceland in their Euro 2016 quarter-final clash. Photo: Charles Platiau /Reuters

France’s Olivier Giroud scores the fifth goal against Iceland in their Euro 2016 quarter-final clash. Photo: Charles Platiau /Reuters

 

France 5 Iceland 2

The dreams of Icelanders and neutrals everywhere finally died in a somewhat brutal fashion in this quarter-final with the hosts retaking the tournament’s centre stage emphatically in front of their own fans and staying firmly on course for the final.

For their opponents – never mind the scoreline – things might actually have been worse and, indeed, seemed likely to be at half-time when it was already 4-0. A spirited performance in difficult circumstances after the break, a couple of goals and chances that might have yielded another one or two, gave their fans something to cheer and sing about though. And they did.

Still, it was the French who had hijacked their party.

If he had it in him to tune in, Roy Hodgson must have watched it all through his hands as he contemplated having to tell people for the rest of his days that “they were better the night we played them”. To be fair, he would have a point for Iceland here, at least in that first half, looked much the way we might all have expected them to had the last two weeks, the last two years even, simply not happened. Worse perhaps.

France, it should be said, played well for as long as it mattered but they have much to be grateful for after knockout victories over a terribly tired Ireland and disintegrating Iceland. All of the goals they scored here would probably have been prevented by a better team or by this one indeed on one of their recent, much better days. As it was their best players got to romp through the best part of a European Championship quarter-final and then, with Thursday’s semi against Germany in mind, rest up a little.

And, having given 22 year-old defender Samuel Umtiti his senior debut here, Didier Deschamps got to take off both of the players at risk of being suspended for Marseille with half an hour still remaining.

The game, though, had effectively ended as a contest well before that. Iceland’s first visit to France more than half a century ago had been for a World Cup qualifier that the hosts won 8-0 and the result that night was probably not in any less doubt than the one here was after an opening 20 in which Olivier Giroud and Paul Pogba capitalised on poor defending to give their side a lead that immediately looked unassailable.

It is tough to say quite how or why Iceland fell so far short of the sort of performances that had got them this far unbeaten but, unchanged again, they must have been tired and like Ireland in the closing stages last week, the toll that took seemed as much mental as physical with poor decision making and a lack of awareness of imminent danger major contributory factors to several of the goals.

For such a physical side, they looked a little weak too at key moments as when Pogba simply brushed Jon Dadi Bödvarsson out of his way as he rose to meet an Antoine Griezmann corner from the right which he headed home for the second.

That, after a Giroud goal that Hannes Halldórsson had allowed to pass through his legs en route to the net just 13 minutes in had a sense of finality about it and if you had been told at that point that the game had a hatful more goals in it, you would have done well to predict Iceland getting a couple of them.

By the break the result was certainly beyond all doubt with Dimitri Payet, then Griezmann doubling their side’s lead in the space of a couple minutes. That fourth must have felt especially painful for Lars Lagerback and the rest of the Iceland bench as Giroud simply stepped over a long, low through ball and the Atletico star raced clear before finishing beautifully.

“Restore some pride” would have been the most ambitious yet credible instruction the Swede and his co-coach could have delivered to the players over the course of the break and they did that at least with Kolbeinn Sigthórsson and Birkir Bjarnason getting goals either side of a second for Giroud but the game, in truth, had little sense of edge to it anymore and France were largely coasting.

They will have to do more than against the Germans but they will go into that game in high spirits after another big win with the momentum helping them, quite possibly, to return here in a week for a final they would certainly fancy themselves to win against either Portugal or Wales.

For Iceland, the voyage is over. It has been for them what Italia’90 was Ireland and then some although there will not be nearly so many people on the streets of Reykjavik for their homecoming because there simply aren’t enough people.

Those that came here, not just the players but the fans too, did themselves proud, writing over the last couple of weeks one of the greatest stories that this championship has ever produced. It is a pity that when they were finally brought back down to earth that it had to be with quite such a thud but as team and supporters paid tribute to each other after the final whistle neither group seemed to mind so much.

France: Lloris; Sagna, Koscielny (Mangala, 72 mins), Umtiti, Evra; Pogba, Matuidi; Sissoko, Griezmann, Payet (Coman, 80 mins) , Giroud (Gignac (60 mins).

Iceland: Halldórsson; Sævarsson, Árnason (Ingason, half-time), R Sigurdsson, Skúlason; Gudmundsson, Gunnarsson, G Sigurdsson, B Bjarnason; Bödvarsson (Finnbogason, half-time), Sigthórsson (Gudjohnsen, 83 mins).

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