Euro 2016: Impressive Iceland hungry for French toast
Didier Deschamps’ France will be wary of falling victim to the same trap that ensnared England as the Euro 2016 hosts take on rank outsiders Iceland for a place in the semifinals on Sunday.
Didier Deschamps’ France will be wary of falling victim to the same trap that ensnared England as the Euro 2016 hosts take on rank outsiders Iceland for a place in the semifinals on Sunday. France are vying for a record-equalling third European Championship title and go into their quarterfinal as overwhelming favourites against a country with a population of just 330,000.
But Iceland, playing at their first major finals, have blown away any notion they were simply in France to make up the numbers. The North Atlantic island nation held Portugal to a 1-1 draw in their opening group game, then sent Austria home with a last-gasp 2-1 victory before stunning England by the same scoreline in the last 16. Defender Bacary Sagna compared Iceland’s remarkable run to that of Leicester City’s fairytale Premier League title success, with both country and city boasting almost identical populations.
“They are kind of the Leicester of Euro 2016,” said the Manchester City right-back. “They deserve to be there. They showed in the qualifying tournament that they could beat the big teams like Netherlands and Czech Republic. It is a quality team and you must not underestimate them,” he added. France needed late goals to overcome Romania and Albania in the group stage, while Antoine Griezmann rescued Les Bleus as they rallied after falling behind in the second minute against the Republic of Ireland in the last round.
Sagna warned his teammates they will eventually be “punished” if they fail to address their tendency to start matches slowly as they head into the latter stages. With Adil Rami suspended, Deschamps is set to hand 22-year-old Barcelona-bound Samuel Umtiti his international debut alongside Laurent Koscielny in defence. N’Golo Kante is also serving a one-match ban with Kingsley Coman, Moussa Sissoko and Yohan Cabaye all candidates to replace the energetic midfielder who played such a huge role in that Leicester success.
Having plotted Iceland’s incredible rise alongside former Sweden boss Lars Lagerback, co-coach Heimir Hallgrimsson is again keen to look at his side’s limited expectations as an advantage. “There is a big difference in the pressure on Iceland and on France,” said Hallgrimsson. “France cannot lose the game, it would be horrible for the French nation. But the Icelandic people would be happy if we get a good performance against France. “You dream big. But we are realistic, we can play the best game of our lives and still lose against France,” he added.