Hosts France need an all-out effort and not just their reputation to beat surprise team Iceland in tonight’s Euro 2016 quarter-finals, captain Hugo Lloris warned yesterday.
Lloris and coach Didier Deschamps told a news conference in the Stade de France they have big respect for Iceland who knocked out England 2-1 in their last 16 game.
“It is not enough to be a big nation and to play good football if you want to win. It is rather about the collective values,” goalkeeper Lloris said.
Lloris said France didn’t need to be reminded by Wales’ 3-1 win over Belgium on Friday that “we have to be wary of all teams... There are no more small teams in Europe. We studied them (Iceland) and we will not be surprised.”
Deschamps did not want to reveal how he will replace suspended Adil Rami in defence, saying only that so far uncapped Samuel Umtiti would be no risk to be fielded because he has “good experience having played in the Champions League with Lyon”.
Eliaquim Mangala, who has had a poor season for Manchester City, is another option. But France must find a new man in midfield for N’Golo Kante who is suspended as well.
The coach said the team has trained to face Iceland’s dangerous long throw-ins from captain Aron Gunnarsson which he considers “the equivalent of a set-piece for them” and from which Iceland, for instance, scored against England.
Deschamps, however, has not practised penalties for a possible shoot-out because he said it is impossible to simulate such a scenario.
Looking at France’s difficulties getting into games at the tournament, Deschamps said: “It is ideal to start and finish well.”
France are yet to score a goal before half-time in the tournament. They recorded late wins over Romania and Albania, a goalless draw with Switzerland and a tense 2-1 comeback win over Ireland in the last 16 thanks to Antoine Griezmann’s double.
France are unbeaten in 16 games at big home tournaments as they aim to add the Euro title on July 10 to those from Euro 1984 and the 1998 World Cup. They have also never lost against Iceland.
Deschamps and Lloris wasted no energy yesterday as they were taken by helicopter from the Clairefontaine base camp south-west of Paris to the national stadium which is north of the capital, and back—because France did not train at the stadium, in order to protect the turf there.
“The police put a helicopter at our disposal, which was very kind. So we had no fatigue from the journey,” Deschamps said.
France are vying for a record-equalling third European Championship title and go into their quarter-final as overwhelming favourites against a country with a population of just 330,000.
But Iceland, playing at their first major finals, have blown away any notion they were simply in France to make up the numbers.
The North Atlantic island nation held Portugal to a 1-1 draw in their opening group game, then sent Austria home with a last-gasp 2-1 victory before stunning England by the same scoreline in the last 16.
Defender Bacary Sagna compared Iceland’s remarkable run to that of Leicester City’s fairytale Premier League title success, with both country and city boasting almost identical populations.
“They are kind of the Leicester of Euro 2016,” said the Manchester City right-back. “They deserve to be there. They showed in the qualifying tournament that they could beat the big teams like Netherlands and Czech Republic. It is a quality team and you must not underestimate them.”
France needed late goals to overcome Romania and Albania in the group stage, while Antoine Griezmann rescued Les Bleus as they rallied after falling behind in the second minute against the Republic of Ireland in the last round.
Sagna warned his teammates they will eventually be “punished” if they fail to address their tendency to start matches slowly.
With Adil Rami suspended, Deschamps is set to hand 22-year-old Barcelona-bound Samuel Umtiti his international debut alongside Laurent Koscielny in defence.
N’Golo Kante is also serving a one-match ban with Kingsley Coman, Moussa Sissoko and Yohan Cabaye all candidates to replace the energetic midfielder who played such a huge role in that Leicester success.
Having plotted Iceland’s incredible rise alongside former Sweden boss Lars Lagerback, co-coach Heimir Hallgrimsson is again keen to look at his side’s limited expectations as an advantage.
“There is a big difference in the pressure on Iceland and on France,” said Hallgrimsson. “France cannot lose the game, it would be horrible for the French nation. But the Icelandic people would be happy if we get a good performance against France. You dream big, but we are realistic, we can play the best game of our lives and still lose against France.”
Jon Dadi Bodvarsson, who scored against Austria at the Stade de France, expects the tournament hosts to give Iceland a much tougher time than they had against England.
“I think this will be a more difficult game. France play with more tempo on the ball and therefore it might be harder to defend,” he said. “They have a very good change of pace and are quick. They have some good individuals and we just have to be ready for that.”
Iceland are sweating over the fitness of captain Gunnarsson, who is nursing a back problem, but Lagerback said the Cardiff City midfielder—the team’s long-throw specialist—should recover in time to line up against the French.
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