France thrashed Iceland 5-2 in Saint-Denis on Sunday, as Didier Deschamps' hosts made it into the Euro 2016 final four. It was a thoroughly impressive performance from Les Bleus, who scored four of their five goals in a whirlwind first half. They'll now take on Germany in Thursday's semifinal, while Iceland head home with their heads held high: they far exceeded expectations in their first-ever major international tournament.
Iceland actually made a promising start to the match, with an early long throw causing problems in the French ranks. Gylfi Sigurðsson eventually managed to wriggle away from his marker and fire goalwards, though his effort was straight at France shot-stopper Hugo Lloris. The hosts responded with a long-range Dimitri Payet shot, but it did nothing more than sting the palms of keeper Hannes Halldórsson.
The underdogs remained admirably enterprising, though their strategy was soon left looking rather naïve. With one simple play France found themselves a goal up: a long, cutting ball from Blaise Matuidi found the onrushing Olivier Giroud, whose well-struck effort flashed through the legs of Halldórsson and inside the near post. Already things looked a little worrying for Iceland.
The worst fears of their supporters were soon realized, with France coming to utterly dominate the first half in their finest performance of the tournament to date. It took just seven minutes for them to add a second, when Paul Pogba escaped the attention of his marker to head a corner into the top corner. Iceland's last hope of giving Les Bleus a game went begging moments later, when Jón Daði Böðvarsson poked a long throw over the crossbar.
France added a third a couple of minutes before the restart, when Payet tucked a loose ball inside the far post from the edge of the area. There was still time for a fourth before the interval, when a lovely flick from Giroud bought Antoine Griezmann the space he needed to chip the ball over the top of Halldórsson and into the back of the net. It was an emphatic finish, and capped an equally emphatic first-half display.
You'd have been forgiven for thinking Iceland would slip into damage limitation mode in the second half, though they were out for more than avoiding humiliation. They were rewarded for their efforts just 10 minutes after the restart, when a fine Gylfi Sigurðsson cross was poked home at the near post by Kolbeinn Sigthórsson.
However, it took just a couple of minutes for normal service to be resumed, with France soon adding a fifth. A floated free kick was totally misjudged by Halldórsson, allowing Giroud to head home his second and France's fifth.
Unperturbed, the plucky Iceland almost closed the deficit to three again just past the hour, though Lloris made an outstanding save to deny a Sverrir Ingi Ingason header from point-blank range. It seemed the Scandinavian side wanted to go out with a bang, and who could blame them?
Despite the fast fading light, Iceland continued to play with great heart. They did manage to score a second with just over five minutes left on the clock, when the excellent Birkir Bjarnason headed an Ari Freyr Skúlason cross home at the far post. It proved to be the last real action of the match, with France progressing by a comfortable three-goal margin. However, it was a spirited and proud performance from their opponents, who stayed strong in the second half when so many would have buckled.
France: Hugo Lloris; Patrice Evra, Laurent Koscielny (Eliaquim Mangala 72'), Samuel Umtiti, Bacary Sagna; Blaise Matuidi, Paul Pogba; Dimitri Payet (Kingsley Coman 80'), Antoine Griezmann, Moussa Sissoko; Olivier Giroud (André-Pierre Gignac 60').
Goals: Giroud (12', 59'), Pogba (19'), Payet (42'), Griezmann (45').
Iceland: Hannes Halldórsson; Ari Skúlason, Ragnar Sigurðsson, Kári Árnason (Sverrir Ingi Ingason 46'), Birkir Sævarsson; Birkir Bjarnason, Gylfi Sigurðsson, Aron Gunnarsson, Johann Guðmundsson; Jón Daði Böðvarsson (Alfreð Finnbogason 46'), Kolbeinn Sigthórsson (Eiður Guðjohnsen 83').
Goals: Sigthórsson (56').
1. France have finally arrived
There's no doubt that France had been rather underwhelming before Sunday's match. It was partly a problem of expectation: Deschamps' side had been subject to so much hype in the run-up to the tournament that everyone seemed to forget how difficult it can be for even the best teams to win cagey major tournament matches. However, it was also partly under-performance -- we'd often seen much better displays from this talented crop. However, in this match they certainly showed their best, with quick, slick passing and clinical finishing ensuring they put Iceland to the sword. They're bound to take this confidence into their semifinal.
2. Germany must be aware of the perils of a high line
As good as France were, there's no doubt that Iceland's rather naïve strategy played into their hands. Presumably wanting to avoid having to defend for the entire match, the Iceland coaches set their side up with a surprisingly high defensive line. However, their pressing wasn't sufficiently organized or intense for it to work, and throughout the first half France's midfielders were given more than enough time to play incisive passes over the top of Iceland's back line. Griezmann's pace and Giroud's combination play was as impressive as it was in the win over the Republic of Ireland last time out, and it shows in the scoreline.
3. Iceland are still the team of the tournament
No one realistically expected Iceland to progress any further in this tournament, but equally, few would have expected them to be eliminated on the back of such a hammering. It's certainly a sad way for the neutral's favorite to crash out. However, on reflection, retiring coach Lars Lagerbäck will surely be proud of his work. At their first-ever major tournament Iceland have captured the hearts of the continent, and proven they're capable of mixing it with some of the best sides on the planet. There's certainly no shame in losing to a team as strong as France, especially in their own back yard, and their brave second-half showing should ensure they'll head home in good spirits