France defeats Iceland 5-2 in quarterfinal
Hosts scored four goals in first half
Olivier Giroud scored twice
France plays Germany in semifinal
The remarkable saga of Iceland’s adventures at Euro 2016 was ended in brutal fashion by hosts France in Paris Sunday.
The game was effectively over by the end of the first half as France entered the interval 4-0 up after goals from Oliver Giroud, Paul Pogba, Dimitri Payet and Antoine Griezmann.
Iceland did score twice in the second period – thanks to goals from Kolbeinn Sigthórsson and Birkir Bjarnason – but a second from Giroud gave France a 5-2 win.
Iceland had never beaten France in its 11 previous meetings against Les Bleus – losing eight of those encounters – but the way the island nation was outplayed must have been tough to take for the thousands who had trekked to the Stade de France and those watching back home.
Even more so given the epic journey Iceland has navigated over the last two years in qualifying for this tournament. By reaching the last eight of Euro 2016, Iceland has caught the imagination of a global audience and that shouldn’t be forgotten despite the comprehensive nature of this defeat.
Iceland’s players and fans stayed long after the match ended in mutual appreciation almost as if they couldn’t quite believe they had reached the quarterfinals of the first major tournament they had participated in.
Remember this was a group of players that had finished above the Netherlands to reach Euro 2016, then drawing with Portugal and emerging unbeaten from its group to reach the knockout stages before smiting England to inflict one of the most humiliating defeats on a nation that prides itself on its football history and domestic league.
“It’s been a fantastic journey,” said Iceland’s Swedish manager Lars Lagerback after the game, reflecting on his five-year association with the team, which now comes to an end.
“I feel it deeply in my heart. I’ve really enjoyed it, though not the first 45 minutes.”
“A mental thing”
In that defining opening period, Iceland’s cohesiveness steadily ebbed away on a drizzly night in northern Paris – this time it was very much Iceland on the end of a smiting.
The game had been preceded by a security alert after police carried out a controlled explosion near the Stade de France, but once the match got under away France quickly assumed almost total control.
When Iceland conceded the first goal – Giroud running clear to collect Blaise Matuidi’s pass before shooting through the legs of Hannes Halldórsson – their fans produced a stirring rendition of their ‘thunder clap’ but halftime was a subdued affair for them.
If Giroud provided the focus for France’s attacks, then Payet and Griezmann were a like a couple of fireflies dancing around him, creating much irritation to the Iceland defense.
It was a Griezmann corner that set up France’s second as Pogba rose powerfully above his markers to send a header past Halldórsson.
Griezmann had a hand in France’s third, teeing up Payet, whose angled shot beat Halldórsson’s dive.
That goal came on 42 minutes and just before the interval, Griezmann waltzed clear before sending a delicate chip over Halldórsson.
“We weren’t using our brains and playing in the normal way we did,” said Lagerback, reflecting on what happened in a first half that ran away from his team. “It was a mental thing and we weren’t sharp enough. We were very passive.”
Arguably Gylfi Sigurdsson has been Iceland’s best player at this tournament, but the Swansea midfielder struggled to impose his creative influence on game that ran away from his team.
On 56 minutes, Sigurdsson finally found a telling cross from the right and Sigthórsson nipped in to prod the ball past Hugo Lloris.
Almost immediately France restored their four-goal cushion as Payet’s free kick was headed in by Giroud as the Arsenal striker grabbed his third goal of the tournament.
Before turning turned pro in 2014 at the age of 30, Halldórsson combined playing as a goalkeeper with his work as a video director and both for him and his teammates a review of this match is likely to prove painful viewing.
In their previous games, Iceland had caused havoc with their set pieces, but that strength rarely came to the fore. True Jón Dadi Bödvarsson had half a chance in the first half that was created by a long throw and Lloris saved a Sverrir Ingason header, but France was never quite troubled in the way England had been.
It was a measure of France’s control of this game that after Giroud scored his second almost immediately France coach Didier Deschamps withdrew the Arsenal forward, replacing him with André-Pierre Gignac.
With 10 minutes left Payet was also withdrawn to a huge ovation.
The rain continued to sweep across the Stade de France and suddenly those thousands of Iceland fans discovered that mesmeric rhythmic clapping, a cacophonous choreography that even France’s fans mimicked before the start of the match.
Perhaps it had an effect on their Iceland team as soon after Bjarnason got on the end of Ari Skúlason’s cross to reduce the deficit to 5-2.
But this was France’s night and Deschamps’ team will now play Germany in Thursday’s semifinal in Marseille, with Wales facing Portugal in Lyon on Wednesday.
“It’s not going to be a stroll in the park – we need to go all out for it,” said Deschamps as he looked ahead to the semifinal against the world champions as France bid to reach a third European Championship final.
“I have to take my hat off to Iceland for all they have done in Euro 2016,” added Deschamps.
After the final whistle went the Iceland team were given one last spine tingling clap by their supporters – with the French fans joining in as well – before they bid au revoir to Euro 2016.