France have booked their last four spot against Germany.
Fresh from their remarkable victory against England, the smallest country to ever grace a major tournament arrived at the Stade de France looking to create an even bigger shock.
There was to be no happy ending to the biggest match in Icelandic football, though, as Didier Deschamps’ men shook off the sluggishness that had dogged them up until this point to win a thoroughly entertaining quarter-final 5-2.
World champions Germany now await in Marseille this Thursday, with a record-breaking first-half display key to France’s victory against the neutrals’ favourites.
Olivier Giroud’s 12th-minute strike was Les Bleus’ maiden first-half goal at this European Championship and proved the precursor to an avalanche, with Paul Pogba’s towering header, a wonderful Dimitri Payet strike and inspired Antoine Griezmann effort putting them in cruise control.
It was the first time a side had scored four goals in the first half of a Euros match and unsurprisingly proved too much of a mountain to climb, with Giroud adding another shortly after Kolbeinn Sigthorsson pulled one back.
That strike, just like Birkir Bjarnason’s late on, was celebrated wildly by Iceland’s fantastic support, who stayed long after the final whistle to applaud their players as a groundbreaking few weeks came to an end.
It was a case of expectancy overcoming hope at the Stade de France, where police carried out a controlled explosion on a suspicious vehicle outside the ground’s perimeter in the hours before kick-off.
That news had little impact on the feel-good factor and French supporters joined their Icelandic counterparts in the Viking hand clap that has become so well-known during Euro 2016.
It was a show of togetherness and strength reflected by their players, who started brightly as Gylfi Sigurdsson aimed an early shot at his former Tottenham team-mate Hugo Lloris.
Bjarnason struck across goal but the opening minutes were far from one-way traffic, with Payet’s effort from the edge of the box a warning shot followed shortly after by the opening goal.
Blaise Matuidi superbly clipped the ball down the left for Giroud and the Arsenal striker beat Hannes Halldorsson with a low effort.
The impressive Iceland goalkeeper may well be disappointed not to keep the strike out, but there was little he could do to prevent Pogba’s powerful header.
A giant leap saw the Juventus midfielder beat Jon Dadi Bodvarsson to a Griezmann corner, with the ball flying into the top corner.
It was a sucker punch Iceland came close to responding to thanks to the latest well-worked routine from Aron Gunnarsson’s mammoth throw, leading Bodvarsson to direct just over.
A deep Sigurdsson free-kick forced Lloris into an unorthodox stop but France were looking comfortable and showed a cutting edge lacking in their previous Euro 2016 matches.
Payet’s intelligence and wonderful technique saw him increase their lead, taking a touch away from danger and hitting a low left-footed strike across the goalkeeper.
Matters were to get even worse before half-time after Giroud stepped over a low, driven ball forwards by Pogba, with Griezmann racing through and audaciously clipping over Halldorsson.
It was a record half-time lead that Iceland quickly chipped away at, pulling one back 11 minutes after the restart as Sigthorsson
poked home a clever Sigurdsson cross.
France regained their four-goal cushion within minutes as Payet delivered a lovely free-kick that Giroud headed past Halldorsson, but Iceland’s attacking intent was not dampened in the Saint-Denis drizzle.
Alfred Finnbogason volleyed over and fellow substitute Sverrir Ingason forced an exceptional point-blank save out of Lloris, with handball appeals against Patrice Evra waved away.
That purpose was rewarded in the 84th minute as Bjarnason headed home Ari Skulason’s cross, with Eliaquim Mangala’s intervention needed shortly after to prevent Birkir Saevarsson setting up a third Iceland goal.
The attacks continued as veteran Eidur Gudjohnsen played out the closing stages, but France’s quest for European Championship glory on home soil – as in 1984 – continues.
PARIS, France — As La Marseillaise rang out around the Stade de France after the final whistle, it felt as though France had finally arrived at Euro 2016. The anthem urges citizens to ‘marchons, marchons’ and that’s exactly what Les Bleus did – advancing through Iceland’s defensive line at will and powering into the semi-finals.
It was the performance that the French public had been waiting patiently for three weeks to witness. Didier Deschamps’ side have made a habit of just ‘doing enough’ so far at this tournament. But while narrow victories are of course the hallmark of champions, there’s really nothing like a goal glut to inspire confidence.
Against an Iceland starting XI that was unchanged for a fourth game in succession, France looked far fresher. It was a display of real swagger, a ruthless razing of Iceland’s European Championship dreams.
When Les Bleus won Euro 1984 it was a 5-0 annihilation of Belgium in the group stage that really got France believing. This five-goal haul has had a similarly stirring effect.
They may not be able to call on the storied ‘Magic Square’ as they did on home soil 32 years ago, but Deschamps can certainly boast a quality quartet. In Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi, Dimitri Payet and Antoine Griezmann, France have four tremendously gifted footballers.
Against Iceland, they produced some breathtaking one-touch football and each played a role in France’s five goals, Les Bleus’ list of creators and scorers reading: Matuidi to Giroud, Griezmann to Pogba, Griezmann to Payet, Giroud to Griezmann, Payet to Giroud.
Matuidi is the group’s unsung hero, quietly going about his business, breaking up play with aplomb. At one stage in the first half he gave the ball away cheaply in midfield but ran hell for leather to atone for his error, emerging with the ball. He didn’t lose it again. Matuidi has guile as well as grit, though, exemplified by his perfectly weighted assist for Giroud’s opener.
With Pogba’s powerful running, Griezmann’s direct dribbling and Payet’s perfect deliveries – plus a confident, in-form Olivier Giroud – France looked formidable. As Pogba rose to head home the second goal from Griezmann’s corner, you couldn’t help but think of Zinedine Zidane’s World Cup final header here at the Stade de France in 1998. Pogba is still some way short of that lofty billing, but his influence is growing as the tournament progresses.
Expectation will now be heightened and rightly so. With Germany missing the valuable experience of Mats Hummels, Sami Khedira, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mario Gomez, France can be viewed as favourites for the semi-final clash.
For Iceland, Euro 2016 expectations have been comfortably exceeded. They have shaken up both the established order and French stadiums alike, their deafening Viking war cry proving almost as popular as ‘Will Grigg’s On Fire’ off the pitch.
On it, there were at least a pair of consolation goals to celebrate at the Stade de France, Kolbeinn Sigthorsson and Birkir Bjarnason ensuring a whitewash was avoided. It wasn’t the fairytale ending the neutrals had hoped for, but Iceland have broken through many barriers at these European Championship and it will be no surprise if another is dismantled in 2018.
France had not played to the best of their abilities leading up to the quarter-final tie as they edged past Romania and drew to Switzerland in the group stages before beating the Republic of Ireland 2-1 in the round of 16.
With the tournament now into its final stretch, this could just be the ideal time for the host nation to shift gears and go all the way.