PARIS, July 4, (RTRS): France swept emphatically into the Euro 2016 semifinals and brought Iceland’s fairytale run to a crushing halt as Olivier Giroud scored twice in a 5-2 win to set up a mouth-watering last-four clash with Germany.
Paul Pogba, Dimitri Payet and Antoine Griezmann were also on target in a one-sided romp at the Stade de France that proved a nightmare end to war-weary Iceland’s improbable Euro dreams.
Having fairly comfortably eased past England into the quarter-finals, Iceland, the smallest nation ever to have qualified for the European Championship, with a population of 330,000, were 4-0 down inside the first half.
They tried to rally after the break with a goal from Kolbeinn Sigthorsson, and added a late consolation through Birkir Bjarnason, but the damage had already been done.
France, who had not been past the quarter-finals since they won the tournament in 2000, eased off and cruised home and will no doubt feel they are warming up nicely ahead of Thursday’s semifinal against world champions Germany in Marseille.
“I am delighted for the players as they deserve this, and for these fans who have been behind us for months,” said France coach Didier Deschamps.
“To be able to offer them something to make them smile and feel happy and have another week in it – I’m delighted about that.”
The French boss will also have been happy to see midfield powerhouse Pogba finally stamp his authority on a match, having struggled in the early games, while striker Giroud silenced some of his critics with a man-of-the-match performance.
For Iceland, a revved-up France team, packed with attacking talent and aggressive running, proved a game too far, but they leave their first major tournament with their heads held high.
“We’re disappointed but still incredibly proud,” said captain Aron Gunnarsson. “It’s been such an amazing experience, it’s been a lot of hard work and the supporters have been fantastic. They’re still singing, it’s unbelievable.”
Coming into the game, Iceland were praised for a rigidly well-organised defence while France had found first-half goals hard to come by, with their previous six coming after the break.
It was a matter of minutes, however, before both of those traits were swept aside, as France set about picking their way through gaping holes in Iceland’s previously solid rearguard.
Having defended so admirably against England, Iceland were 2-0 down inside 20 minutes through two of the oldest and simplest tricks in the football playbook.
The opener came after 12 minutes from a hopeful long ball which found Giroud with acres of space to run through and then drive a low finish beneath keeper Hannes Halldorsson.
The second goal was a simple corner to the far post that the soaring Pogba headed emphatically home.
It seemed as though the contest was already effectively over when Payet turned the screw two minutes before halftime, sweeping home a low left-foot strike from the edge of the area for his third goal of the tournament.
Yet worse was to come for Iceland as Griezmann twisted the knife on the stroke of halftime, latching onto a through ball after Giroud’s dummy to race clear and chip the advancing Halldorsson to become tournament top scorer with four goals.
There was a brief respite for Iceland as they clawed a goal back 11 minutes after the break when Kolbeinn Sigthorsson slid in at the near post to convert Gylfi Sigurdsson’s low cross, but their raised spirits were swiftly doused.
A simple lofted free kick from Payet three minutes later allowed Giroud to dart in front of the keeper and flick his header into the unguarded net.
With six minutes remaining, Bjarnason pulled another goal back for Iceland with a header but the tie, and Iceland’s hopes of extending their dream run, were over.