Iceland’s dream run through Euro 2016 has ended at the hands of France, with the hosts scoring four goals in the first half to book a semi-final against Germany. The French were in control early, tapping the ball around, and they took the lead in the twelfth minute after a wonderful ball from Blaise Matuidi found Olivier Giroud over the top. The central midfielder played it from inside his own half, and it penetrated the Icelandic defence to put Giroud one-on-one with Hannes Halldorsson. Giroud’s shot passed through Halldorsson’s legs as it rolled easily into the back of the net, with the Icelandic keeper left powerless. It was a goal that had come out of the blue, and it put Iceland on the back foot. France went back to their calm, controlled tempo, and soon they doubled their lead with Paul Pogba’s first international goal since 2014. Dimitri Payet’s corner was perfectly placed, and the Juventus star beat Jon Dadi Bodvarsson in the air to send a thunderous header into the back of the net. France led 2-0, and the game was all but over.
Bodvarsson had a stunning chance to pull a goal back for Iceland after one of Aron Gunnarsson’s trademark long throws, but he was unable to direct Kolbeinn Sigthorsson’s flick-on header into the back of the net. The game died down again, and France regained control. Then, with three minutes left in the half, they sealed the deal. It started with Payet. The ball was distributed wide to Bacary Sagna, whose cross was headed down for Antoine Griezmann by Giroud. Griezmann passed it back to Payet, who made his way onto his left foot and drilled it into the bottom corner. It was a great goal, worthy of the set-up work which led to it. Then came the fourth. Pogba’s ball from deep in midfield was flicked on effortlessly by Giroud, allowing Griezmann to get in behind the Icelandic defence. Halldorsson came out, and the Atletico Madrid star responded by chipping him. The ball hung in the air a long time, but Ragnar Sigurdsson was never going to get there and France could celebrate.
The fourth goal was the final nail in the coffin for Iceland, who had fought hard but had been undone by some excellent pieces of play. The French were content to keep the ball as the second half kicked off, and they passed around the back with ease. Payet and Pogba had chances, but France had taken the pace out of the game and didn’t look like losing the ball. Iceland began to find their footing as the half progressed, and after a number of set pieces they were able to score. Gylfi Sigurdsson provided the spark with a brilliant ball into the box, and Sigthorsson was there to volley it past Hugo Lloris into the back of the net. The joy would not last. Giroud scored again when Payet’s long-range free kick was expertly placed in behind the Icelandic defence. The Arsenal striker was too strong for Sverrir Ingi Ingason in the air, and he headed it past Halldorsson to find an open goal. Iceland kept pushing hard, and Lloris made an incredible save to deny Ingason’s close range header, but there was no real action. The energy of the game had left, and it was not coming back.
Iceland scored again with a few minutes to go through Birkir Bjarnason, whose header was too good for Lloris as it found the back of the net. It was scant consolation for Iceland in a massive defeat, but they will hold their heads high after a remarkable campaign. As for France, they go on to face Germany in what is sure to be a thrilling contest.
Saint-Denis – Stade de France
France 5 (Giroud 12, 59, Pogba 20, Payet 43, Griezmann 45)
Iceland 2 (Sigthorsson 56, B Bjarnason 84)
Referee: Bjorn Kuipers (Ned)
France (4-2-3-1): Lloris – Sagna, Umtiti, Koscielny (Mangala 72), Evra; Pogba, Matuidi; Sissoko, Griezmann, Payet (Coman 80); Giroud (Gignac 60).
Iceland (4-4-2): Halldorsson – Saevarsson, Arnason (Ingason 46), R Sigurdsson, Skulason; Gudmundsson, Gunnarsson, G Sigurdsson, B Bjarnason; Sigthorsson (Gudjohnsen 83), Bodvarsson (Finnbogason 46).
1. Dimitri Payet (France)
Payet finished with a goal and two assists, and he was everywhere for the French. His ball use was good and he showed excellent skill as he caused huge trouble for the Icelandic defence. He played very well, and will hope that the incredible form he has showed throughout this tournament can translate to the game against Germany.
2. Antoine Griezmann (France)
Griezmann was full of energy throughout, and he was excellent when given space to move. He became the top scorer of the tournament with his classy chip over Halldorsson, and he looked to be at the top of his game.
3. Olivier Giroud (France)
Giroud scored twice and was a strong presence up front for the French. He provided a great assist for Griezmann with a perfectly timed flick in behind, and he will look to continue his strong form against the Germans. He was strong in the air, and he caused massive problems for Iceland.
4. Aron Gunnarsson (Iceland)
Gunnarsson was Iceland’s best in a losing cause, and he can hold his head high after a strong performance. He was solid in midfield and caused plenty of issues with his long throws into the box. He was able to stay in control throughout, and provided a cool head for Iceland as their system fell apart.
5. Paul Pogba (France)
Pogba was a calming influence in the centre of the park, and he was able to use the ball effectively throughout the game. He showed his incredible physical ability with France’s second goal, and he put in a strong performance. He seems to be finding his form at the right time, and he could put in his best effort yet against Germany.