KEIR RADNEDGE in SAINT-DENIS: French goalscorers Olivier Giroud and Dmitri Payet followed up the hosts’ easy progress to the semi-finals of Euro 2016 by warning that now the hardest work is about to start.
Les Bleus swept aside the adventurous minnows of Iceland 5-2 in their quarter-final in the Stade de France in Saint-Denis to set up a semi-final in Marseille on Thursday against world champions Germany.
The match will inevitably raise memories of the World Cup quarter-final in Brazil two years ago which Germany won 1-0 but Didier Deschamps’s side have two years’ more experience under their belt as well as home advantage.
Giroud, who scored twice to take his tally to three for the tournament, said: “We were very pleased with this evening although we did concede a couple of goals but we had a lot of fun and we’ll try to erase some of the small defensive mistakes because against Germany we would be made to pay a heavy price.
“So we are not confident because they are the world champions and they will be favourites. But we’d like to write another chapter in French football history.”
Dmitri Payet, who also scored his third goal of the campaign, refused similarly to accept that victory over Iceland said anything about the likely outcome against Germany.
The West Ham winger said: “We managed to score a lot of goals and, what’s more, we we were able to score quickly. This was our best performance in the Euros. But playing against Germany will be different. Just because they have some injuries does not necessarily mean that they will be weakened in any way.”
The Icelanders had become hugely popular – almost as the novelty act – with their giant-killing exploits in reaching the quarter-finals. This proved a step too far, however, as their static defence and sloppy marking were punished ruthlessly.
The slaughter began after only 12 minutes. Patrice Evra lofted the ball over the Icelandic defence and Giroud timed his run perfectly to collect the ball, run on and shoot easily beyond keeper Hannes Halldorsson for his second goal of the finals.
Not only that but it was the first time in the campaign that Les Bleus had scored in the first half.
Seven minutes later Antoine Griezmann arrowed a right-wing corner across the goal area for midfielder Paul Pogba to head majestically home. The simplicity of the goals raised more questions about how England had failed to despatch Iceland in similar fashion.
However Iceland, as they had proved in both the qualifying tournament and the finals, were made of stern stuff and not ready to capitulate.
France were nearly caught out in the 24th minute when Jon Dadi Bodvarsson reached a headed cross before Samuel Umititi – deputising in the French defence for suspended Adil Rami – only to jab it over the bar from close range. But that was the last flurry of first-half resistance.
In the 42nd minute Giroud headed down a right-wing cross from Bacary Sagna and Griezmann pushed it back so Dmitri Payet could side-step a defender and shoot home left-footed. Then Griezmann ran through from halfway to score himself after Giroud helped on a long through ball from Laurent Koscielny.
This was the 100th goal of these finals and Payet knelt to kiss Griezmnann’s boot in mock homage.
The goals kept on coming after the interval. Kolbeinn Sigthorsson jabbed home a Gylfe Sigurdsson cross to pull one back for Iceland just before the hour but within two minutes Giroud had headed his own second from Payet’s swirling downfield free kick.
Captain Hugo Lloris in the French had one scare when he had to push a point-blank header from Sverrir Ingasin over the bar but he had no chance when Birkir Bjarnason struck a second ‘consolation’ goal for the spirited and indefatigable Icelanders.
That pulled the tie level as the second highest scoring Euro finals game on record, behind only Yugoslavia’s 5-4 defeat of France in the 1960 semi-finals.