Home team scorers Olivier Giroud 12 Paul Pogba 19 Dimitri Payet 42 Antoine Griezmann 45 Olivier Giroud 59
Away team scorers Kolbeinn Sigthorsson 55 Birkir Bjarnason 84
France have served notice of their quality. A team who had rather huffed and puffed up to this point, scraping through late in contests they had been expected to win at a canter, have rediscovered their rhythm at the right time. They dazzled in the drizzle to cast Iceland, one of the most refreshing stories of the finals, from the tournament. In the end, the smallest nation ever to grace a major finals saw their fairytale being trampled underfoot by a true contender.
Didier Deschamps, relieved long before the end by his own side’s complete dominance, will take a full-strength side south to Marseille convinced his players can finally exact significant revenge on Germany at Stade Vélodrome. Memories of 1982, 1986 and even 2014 will dominate the build-up, but Les Bleus have not lost at home in a major finals since 1960. On this evidence, they will stretch the reigning world champions.
The French were always going to click at some stage at their own tournament, and it was just Iceland’s misfortune that the surge came in Saint-Denis. They were ruthless where England, in Nice last Monday, had merely frittered away opportunities while caving in too regularly at the other end. Perhaps Deschamps, albeit with suspensions having forced changes to his lineup, had learned from events at the Allianz Riviera, with more energy and bite injected into this selection.
Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi, previously becalmed when this team had needed both to thrive, were spiky, aggressive and irrepressible. The team’s forward-thinkers, Newcastle’s Moussa Sissoko among them and playing with an effervescence too often lacking last term on Tyneside, fed off the midfield pair’s snapping presence.
The contest was seized in the opening quarter and was over by the interval, a France team who have grown used to snatching wins revelling in the simplicity of it all. It was not quite as emphatic as Germany’s first-half trouncing of Brazil in Belo Horizonte two years ago, but no other side had ever scored four goals in the first half of a European Championship game. The French had not even managed one in the opening periods of their previous four matches but, as the locals’ Hosanna drowned out the Icelandic Huh, Les Bleus swept all resistance aside. The team ranked 37 in the world simply could not cope with the brutality of it all.
There was so much to admire in the rewards taken up to the interval. Matuidi’s wonderfully arced pass, eased over Birkir Saevarsson and beyond Kari Arnason from the halfway line, had set the tone. Olivier Giroud trundled on to the delivery and belted through Hannes Halldorsson’s legs to force his team ahead. Just before half-time it was Pogba sliding a pass from deep, Giroud confusing a shattered Icelandic back-line with a step-over, and there was Antoine Griezmann skipping away from Arnason and Ragnar Sigurdsson before lobbing the goalkeeper. The finish was a cheeky, betraying the confidence of a player reborn. Arnason would not return for the second half.
Pogba’s thumping header from Griezmann’s corner, the Juventus midfielder leaping above Jon Dadi Badvarsson and planting his effort beyond Saevarsson on the goal-line, was just as admirable. France have only seen flashes of their young talisman to date, and they will need him at his authoritative best against Germany.
This suggested he is finding form at the right time with the local mood, unperturbed by the controlled explosion carried out by police on a vehicle illegally parked within the security perimeter outside the ground four hours before kick-off, revelling in Pogba’s leggy brilliance.
Just as spritely remains Dimitri Payet, flitting between flank and central playmaker with such menace. A beleaguered back-line never really came close to snuffing out his threat, the West Ham playmaker a blur of movement, forever sniffing out space in which to wound wary opponents.
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Iceland were dizzied by it all. Their unity and commitment were never in doubt, their spirit retained even as Ragnar Sigurdsson could only stretch to volley over the bar after Aron Gunnarsson’s latest hurled throw-in. He had buried a similar chance against the English.
But this seemed like a month’s solid work catching up with the first side to have gone five matches at these finals with an unchanged starting lineup. The natural order was being restored, and emphatically. Even when Kolbeinn Sigthorsson converted Gylfi Sigurdsson’s centre at the near-post, Payet was soon floating over a free-kick for Giroud to leap above the substitute Sverrir Ingason and Halldorsson to ensure the French advantage remained four goals.
Hugo Lloris’ astonishing save from Ingason’s point-blank header rather summed it all up although Birkir Bjarnason’s far-post header from Ari Skulason’s cross provided a consolation celebrated wildly all round this arena. Iceland have been magnificent, but it is the French who can sense real reward.