Even fairy tales must end at some point.
For Iceland’s national soccer team, that place was the Stade de France, and the time was Sunday in the quarterfinals of the 2016 UEFA European Championship. The villain was the host nation, which ran rampant on the Cinderella team of Euro 2016, winning 5-2 in an entertaining, albeit one-sided, contest.
Olivier Giroud and Paul Pogba put France ahead by two goals within 20 minutes of kickoff, and Dimitri Payet and Antoinne Griezmann both struck near the end of the first half to give Les Bleus an astonishing lead by halftime.
Iceland tried to mount an unbelievable second-half comeback, starting with Kolbeinn Sigthorsson’s 56th-minute goal, but Giroud responded with another goal three minutes later. No doubt about the result existed by the hour mark, leading to an open, end-to-end finale in which Iceland again cut into France’s lead on Birkir Bjarnason’s goal in the 84th minute.
Iceland faced an opponent it simply could not freeze. Maybe it was due to France’s home cooking, or perhaps the occasion overwhelmed Euro 2016’s smallest nation.
France’s triple threat of Giroud, Griezmann and Payet played with levels of confidence and composure befitting genuine contenders for Euro 2016’s all-tournament team and winners’ medals. Pogba performed at the slightest notch below the front three, much to the delight of all but a few thousand Iceland fans in attandance. Iceland simply could do nothing to stop the charge of the best team it had faced at Euro 2016.
Here’s how France stormed past Iceland into the semifinals.
Ask and you shall receive (a fast start)
Prior to the quarterfinal, France had scored six goals in four games, with the earliest coming in the 57th minute and three in the 89th minute or later. France coach Didier Deschamps called on his team to start quickly against Iceland.
Boy, did Les Bleus answer their coach’s orders, eliminating doubt over the result early on and turning the game into a de-facto party in the rain.
The France striker earned man of the match honors. “Impressive” doesn’t do his goal-scoring streak justice.
France shares the wealth
Les Bleus’ triple threat is an opposing coach’s nightmare. Stopping Giroud is one thing, but sidekicks Griezmann and Payet are more than capable of producing the goods. Add Pogba to the mix, now that he is on the Euro 2016 scoreboard.
Cinderalla out past midnight
Iceland’s story run had to end eventually.
Coaches Lars Lagerback and Helmir Hallgrimsson used the same starting lineup for a record fifth consecutive game, but Iceland’s quality and focus dipped against France. Instead of fatigue, blame the law of averages. Iceland’s players accomplished more than anyone predicted, but expecting them to maintain peak form throughout a month-long tournament isn’t realistic.
Only the top players and teams can produce such consistency. Iceland, the smallest country to ever compete at a European Championship or FIFA World Cup, isn’t in that category.
Nevertheless, Iceland did itself proud, especially in fighting back from a 4-0 halftime deficit.
Thumbnail photo via YouTube/payakumbuh