France have finally turned up at their own party. During the first four matches of their home competition, Didier Deschamps’ side looked a muddled, unconvincing outfit wracked with nerves. The failure to convince against Romania, Albania, Switzerland and Republic of Ireland raised serious questions over their tag as pre-tournament favourites’. However, their magnificent 5-2 trouncing of Iceland in Paris shows just why they were so highly favoured – and their next opponents Germany will not like what they saw.
Their opponents came into the fixture unbeaten in the Euros and under no pressure given that they had already drastically exceeded expectations by dumping out the Three Lions in the previous knockout round. Iceland fell behind early in that match due to a Wayne Rooney penalty, but Roy Hodgson’s men were instantly pegged back.
France moved into a similarly prompt advantage, Olivier Giroud firing into the net following a pinpoint direct pass from Blaise Matuidi, but instead of allowing their concentration to wander, they successfully sought a second. Just as the opener was simple, so was the follow up; Antoine Griezmann’s corner was headed into the net by Paul Pogba, who achieved a hang time on his leap that NBA superstar LeBron James would have been proud of.
Two more followed before the interval, a low finish from the box’s edge from Dimitri Payet and a lovely chip from Griezmann. In scoring four times in the opening period, they became the first side ever to achieve that feat in the history of the European Championship.
In a tournament in which big victories have been conspicuous by their absence, this came in stark contrast. But crucially for France, it allowed them to manage their energy levels before their semi-final with Germany – no doubt much to the envy of their next opponents. Joachim Low’s side were forced to endure a gruelling 120 minutes and a stressful penalty shootout before ousting Italy in a marathon match whereas Les Bleus simply cruised.
After racing out of the blocks in the opening quarter of the match, Deschamps’ men were able to toy with their tiring opponents, picking them off at will. Giroud and Laurent Koscielny, the only two players risking suspension due to an accumulation of bookings, were both replaced well before time.
It was the first time all summer that France have justified their favourites tag. Offensively, they were irresistible, picking up from the final half hour against Ireland, when they were so slick after playing a mediocre 60 minutes.
The movement and slick interchanges among the hosts’ front four offered a threat more than a level above what their opponents could cope with.
The defensive line, which was considered an area of weakness given that Samuel Umtiti became the first Frenchman to make his international debut in a major competition since Gabriel de Michele in 1966, was rarely tested. He was partially culpable as Kolbeinn Sigthorsson slid in to grab a consolation, but this simply roused Giroud to glance a free kick into the net moments later. By the time Birkir Bjarnason headed in a second for the underdogs, the match was already over.
Make no mistake about it, France have finally broken the ice at Euro 2016 – and in the process they have sent world champions Germany an emphatic message ahead of Thursday’s super-clash in Marseille