The Icelandic dream goes on and on but it may meet its match in the shape of Hosts France, who can set up a semi-final clash to stop a Nation with either Germany or Italy. Didier Deschamps’ side have not impressed everybody this tournament and even at this stage are still searching for their best XI and formation but they have grown as the tournament has progressed and still hold and awesome array of tools at their disposal.
Their 2-1 victory against Ireland was a hard fought one but an early penalty meant they had to wear down a stiff resistances which they did with credit in front of a crucially supportive crowd and after Antoine Grizemann’s double it was only profligacy that prevented them from racking up a large winning margin late on – Darren Randolph made nine saves in total.
The change of Greizemann to a central role was one of many that worked a treat in a strong second half performance against the Irish, rewarding Les Blues with a header and a low central strike in the space of just under five minutes (although he could well have had a hat trick had it not been for a Sean Duffy foul) whilst the injection of pace from Kingsley Coman through the middle of the park gave energy against a tired defence and had Andre Pierre Gignac take any number of his chances for the
It must be hugely encouraging for Deschamps that Paul Pogba, fresh from a dominating performance against Switzerland where he hit the post three times, recovered from an early error to have more touches (91) and providing more passes (66) than any player on the field whilst Blaise Maitudi was also slightly improved.
France can’t afford to wait another 45 minutes to find a midfield that works given the pressure that Icelandic forwards Jon Dadi Bodvarsson and Kolbeinn Sigthorsson put on the deeper lying Eric Dier on Monday. The Island nation had managed to withstand batterings without the ball through the group stage but they played a high defensive line and in much of the second half they were making the chances that could have made it 3-1 to them.
It has been said to death but there can be few better coached teams left in the tournament with the knowledge of each role impeccable and the pure industry of Gunnarsson, Barjanason, Gudmundsson and Bjarnason (yes, all real people) ought to at least keep France honest. However England, who themselves lost their collective gameplan and all sense of any composure on Monday, underperformed by a great deal and it seems fair to say that this is a much better French outfit that they will be facing.
It is also one with a far more clinical set of attacking tools than those that either Austria, Portugal, or Hungary, all of whom dominated their group games, had, and Iceland did display defensive vulnerabilities that England did not take advantage of on more than one occasion on Monday. It remains to be seen if France can find the necessary setup to do so but they have at every stage of this tournament and they should be to good. This is reflected in prohibitive match odds however, and I have no interest in taking 2/5 on the hosts or prohibitive odds for the Asian or normal Handicap markets. A better angle in looks to be the 6/5 on over 2.5 goals. France could and should have passed this mark themselves against Ireland whilst Iceland themselves are yet to be stopped in scoring during the tournament.
4 pts Over 2.5 goals (6/5 Betfair)