Stuttering France finally clicked into gear at Saint Denis on Sunday in the 4th Quarter Final of the 2016 European Championships, and smothered slumbering Iceland to secure the last Semi Final spot. The French, who had relied on late goals to secure victories in the past, were two up against Iceland within 20 minutes, and never looked back.
On a lighter note, the real “Iceland” showed up in this game in place of “Island”, the upstart team that had looked indestructible in the earlier rounds. In reality, Iceland strangely abandoned their pressing, high tempo game, and started playing like the aristocrats of Europe: unfortunately, they don’t have the skills. The more skilful French simply ran roughshod over them.
The Icelandics not only abandoned their pressing game, they also abandoned the defensive formation that had let in only four goals in previous 360 minutes of football: Iceland defended intensely, and defended deep. Against France, they kept a high line and lost their intensity. The French simply lofted or threaded balls into the acres of space behind the defenders for their strikers to feast on. The result was a four goal burst in 45 minutes. All the French strikers found the net.
Olivier Giroud was imperious. The Frenchman Arsenal fans love to hate, because of his poor attempts-to-goals ratio in the Premiership was on fire against Iceland. Giroud won almost every aerial ball, feeding knock-downs to Griezmann and Payet. He added two goals on his only two attempts at goal; a 100% return. That is probably the most productive ratio he’s posted in his career.
It was mooted that Iceland would celebrate the win over England so much, that the players would be jaded when they line up against the French. It looked like it. Iceland weren’t so much physically gone as mentally “satisfied”; they collectively outran France (108km to 106km) in the course of the game, but that may be because they were chasing the ball and the game. The win over England was perhaps the apex of their ambitions; they totally switched off against France.
So far, the French have not been really tested, but the hosts have managed to look impressive; but how good is this French team? We will soon know, Die Mannschaft are coming!