Euro 2016: France wary of giant-killers Iceland in Euro quarter-final
Didier Deschamps’ side come into the last quarter-final at the Stade de France as the overwhelming favourites against a country with a population of just 330,000, and with a semi-final against Germany the reward for the winner.
But Iceland have taken the competition by storm and proved their capabilities by stunning England in the last 16, coming from behind to win 2-1 in Nice.
“It’s not by chance Iceland have made it through,” France goalkeeper and captain Hugo Lloris said on Saturday.
“Iceland have had a great run since the beginning of the tournament. We have a lot of respect for Iceland, we watched their great performance against England and we won’t be surprised.”
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.
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 Leicester City midfielder.
The pressure is all on the hosts as they look to repeat their feats at the 1984 Euros and the 1998 World Cup by winning a major tournament on home soil, while Iceland come into the game just eager to savour the occasion.
Indeed, Icelandic fans have been desperately scrambling to find flights to allow them to descend on France in a new Viking invasion ahead of the historic match.
Among the Icelandic supporters intending to be at the Stade de France is President Gudni Johannesson, a 48-year-old history professor who was elected on June 25.
“I will be in the stands with the fans and I will wear my Iceland shirt,” he told CNN.
Iceland ‘dream big’
Having plotted Iceland’s incredible rise alongside former Sweden boss Lars Lagerback, co-coach Heimir Hallgrimsson — who is also a dentist in his homeland — is again keen to look at his side’s limited expectations as an advantage.
“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,” he said.
“You dream big. But we are realistic, we can play the best game of our lives and still lose against France.”
Iceland captain Aron Gunnarsson is set to start in midfield after overcoming a back problem that had restricted him in training.
Whoever comes through Sunday’s game will go through to a semi-final on Thursday in Marseille against the Germans.
The World Cup holders ended their long-standing hex against Italy, beating the Azzurri 6-5 on penalties after Saturday’s game finished 1-1 at the end of 90 minutes and extra time.
Mesut Ozil’s second-half opener for Germany was cancelled out by a Leonardo Bonucci penalty to force extra time before Jonas Hector emerged as the hero for Joachim Loew’s side by scoring the 18th kick in a remarkable shoot-out.
It was Germany’s first win over Italy at a major tournament at the ninth attempt.
Wales will face Portugal in the first semi-final next Wednesday following their stunning 3-1 success against Belgium in the last eight on Friday. Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal beat Poland on penalties in their quarter-final.