After sending England packing Iceland will hope to spring an even more dramatic upset when they take on hosts France in the quarter-finals at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis.
The hosts are vying for a record-equalling third European Championship title and go into the game as overwhelming favourites against a country with a population of just over 320,000. But Iceland, playing at their first major finals, have blown away any notion they are 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 producing the shock of the tournament when they knocked out England by the same scoreline in the last 16.
France, on the other hand, rode their luck to top Group A and needed late goals to overcome Romania (2-1) and Albania (2-0) 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. Didier Deschamps’ men are still yet to find their best form four games into their tournament and spent the best part of an hour against Ireland sweating on their Euro 2016 future.
The indifferent form of the French compares markedly to Iceland, the “plucky underdogs”, who put in a composed, disciplined display against England in which they were by far the better side. Harry Kane, Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge and Jamie Vardy were unable to find a way past the Iceland defensive wall, will Dimitri Payet and company endure similar struggles tonight? The winner of this game will face Germany in the second semi-final on Thursday in Marseille.
DATE, TIME AND COVERAGE
Sunday 3 July, 21:00 CEST (00:30 IST) kick-off. Live on ITV/HD (Sony Six/HD). Live match commentary on BBC Football.
France will be without defender Adil Rami and midfielder N’Golo Kante who are suspended for the clash, while exciting youngster Kingsley Coman is a doubt. The France forward was substituted late on against Ireland after picking up a knock, and will be assessed ahead of Sunday’s game. Barcelona bound Samuel Umtiti is expected to make his international debut alongside Laurent Koscielny in defence.
Iceland head to Saint-Denis with a clean bill of health after captain and long throw speciality Aron Gunnarsson returned to training on Friday after recovering from a back injury. However, nine of Iceland’s likely starting lineup begin on a booking and another caution would rule them out of a potential semi-final.
HEAD TO HEAD
Played – 11
France Wins – 8
Draw – 3
Iceland Wins – 0
HEAD TO HEAD FIXTURES
27-May-12 – Friendly – France 3-2 Iceland
09-Oct-99 – European Championship – France 3-2 Iceland
05-Sep-98 – European Championship – Iceland 1-1 France
20-Nov-91 – European Championship – France 3-1 Iceland
05-Sep-90 – European Championship – Iceland 1-2 France
France – WDWWW
26-Jun – Euro 2016 – France 2-1 Republic of Ireland
19-Jun – Euro 2016 – Switzerland 0-0 France
15-Jun – Euro 2016 – France 2-0 Albania
10-Jun – Euro 2016 – France 2-1 Romania
04-Jun – Friendly – France 3-0 Scotland
Iceland – WWDDW
27-Jun – Euro 2016 – England 1-2 Iceland
22-Jun – Euro 2016 – Iceland 2-1 Austria
18-Jun – Euro 2016 – Iceland 1-1 Hungary
14-Jun – Euro 2016 – Portugal 1-1 Iceland
06-Jun – Friendly – Iceland 4-0 Liechtenstein
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Antoine Griezmann (France)
After a below-par performance against Romania in the tournament’s opener in which he missed two golden opportunities to score, Griezmann was dropped for their second group game against Albania. This clearly ignited something within him, who came off the bench to open the scoring for his side in the dying minutes of the game. Perhaps it was the nerves in the opening match which affected the 25-year-old’s showing, because he went one better against Ireland in the last round, finding the back of the net twice in quick succession to confirm a quarter-final spot. With 22 league goals for Atletico Madrid last season, if he can replicate the form he has shown in recent games then Iceland’s defence will need to be at their very best.
Ragnar Sigurdsson (Iceland)
Man of the match against England, Sigurdsson set the tiny nation on their way to victory when he equalised within a minute of Rooney’s penalty. After his goal the centre-back, who plays his club football in Russia, put in a stellar performance to nullify England’s misfiring attack and protected Hannes Halldorsson from any real danger. The 30-year-old has seen his stock soar at Euro 2016, leading to reports of being linked with a move to Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City. His nation have not conceded more than one goal per game all tournament but in France, they face their biggest test yet and will have to do their utmost best to keep Payet, Griezmann and company at bay.
Samuel Umtiti v Kolbeinn Sigthorsson
The decisive factor in this match is likely to be the performance of Umtiti alongside Koscielny at the heart of the France defence. With Rami suspended, Umtiti, who was Deschamps’ seventh or eighth choice a little over two months ago, is expected to get the nod ahead of the more experienced Eliaquim Mangala. However, while playing the Lyon youngster is a gamble, it’s a calculated one and could easily pay off. Indeed, the fact that a team of Barcelona’s calibre have been tracking him for some time before finally getting their man should be evidence enough that he is a defender of superb potential. But this will be his international debut and he will be up against Sigthorsson. The Nantes forward may not be the most prestigious attacking player at the tournament, but he is an effective physical presence and will be a tricky customer to deal with. If Umtiti displays any nerves, Sigthorsson will be quick to exploit them.
France (4-2-3-1) – Hugo Lloris; Bacary Sagna, Laurent Koscielny, Samuel Umtiti, Patrice Evra; Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi; Moussa Sissoko, Antoine Griezmann, Dimitri Payet; Olivier Giroud.
Iceland (4-4-2) – Hannes Halldorsson; Birkir Mar Sævarsson, Karl Arnason, Ragnar Sigurdsson, Ari Freyr Skulason; Johann Berg Gudmundsson, Aron Gunnarsson, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Birkir Bjarnason; Jon Dadi Bodvarsson, Kolbeinn Sigthorsson.
Name – Bjorn Kuipers
Based – Netherlands
Age – 40
Games – 2
Yellow Cards – 10
Red Cards – 0
Penalties – 1
France 9/20, Draw 7/2, Iceland 7/1
France are the favourites in this game, they are in a better shape than their opponents coupled with the benefits of playing at home in front of their fans. The onus is on France to take the game to Iceland. Deschamps’ men will dictate possession, but will find it hard to unpick an impervious, organised defence. Iceland will look to exploit on the counter and long throw-ins, just like they did against Portugal, Austria and England. They will have to work harder if they are to win this game but as they have shown in the last round, they can upset the big teams. However, it may just be a step too far for Lars Lagerback and Heimir Hallgrimsson’s troop, with Les Bleus improving with every game.
Predicted Score – France 2-1 Iceland
This article is written by Shantanu Ambekar, you can follow him on Twitter at @ShantanuAmbekar. What are your thoughts? Let us know by dropping a comment via our comments box below. Make sure you follow us on Twitter, Google+, Instagram and like us on Facebook.