Wary and depleted France looking to end Iceland’s glorious run
by Ed Pham
After coming from behind win against Ireland in the Round of 16, the French found themselves matched up against surprise opponents Iceland, who dispatched England 2-1 in Nice. Les Bleus find themselves the favorites to progress into the semifinals, having won eight and drawn three against Iceland, which includes a 3-2 victory in 2012. However, Iceland will look to be forgetful of that record and start anew, starting with a win in the Stade de France on Sunday evening.
While the loss of defensive midfielder N’Golo Kante due to yellow card accumulation does hurt, the French do have reinforcements in either Moussa Sissoko and Yohan Cabaye, as seen in the match against Switzerland in the group stage.
However, Adil Rami’s suspension will be a more interesting situation to monitor. Neither center backs Eliaquim Mangala nor Samuel Umtiti have yet to see any minutes for the hosts leading up to Sunday’s match. Manager Didier Deschamps will be left with a pressing question of who he wants to start.
Both have been serviceable for their respective clubs, Manchester City and Olympique Lyonnais, but with so much on the line, which player will likely get their first minutes and start of Euro 2016? Reports have been saying that Umtiti will get his first ever international cap for the French team on Sunday, which would be quite the debut.
Les Bleus have only conceded two goals in the tournament, both to penalty kicks against group stage opponent Romania and in the Round of 16 to Ireland. The French squad must continue to remain steadfast, but also need to be disciplined in the box, as both penalties conceded were due to poor fouls made by Evra and Pogba.
Iceland’s attack can be dangerous on both the counter, as seen against Austria, as well as in build-up play in their second goal against the English side. If the French side are to advance, they need to be wary of this, else they could find themselves a goal down early and allow Iceland to continue their valiant defending in their compact 4-4-2 that they’ve using throughout the tournament.
The French have been solid in the second half, as they have found plenty of goals during the group stage, along with Griezmann’s brace against Ireland. However, it’s their performances in the first half that have caused plenty of concern for fans. Their struggles to find goals and poor play in the first half will be punished by upcoming sides if they are to progress further in the tournament. The French will need to show strength and consistency for a full 90 minutes in order to comfortably progress into the semifinals against Germany or Italy. A goal against Iceland early could open up the flood gates and force them to attack more frequently. That could allow the hosts to find another goal and book their ticket into the semifinals.
If England’s shock exit was any indication of what this Iceland team can do, France will need to put a solid effort in order to ensure their place in the final four of the competition. With all eyes and hopes of the nation upon them, France must do their part in securing the win here in the quarterfinals to continue the dream of winning another trophy on home soil.