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Five-star France crush Iceland's dreams

France 5 Iceland 2

By Simon Peach

Published 04/07/2016

Top Gunner: Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud opens the scoring for the boys in blue in the 12th minute
Top Gunner: Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud opens the scoring for the boys in blue in the 12th minute

Hosts France set up a mouthwatering Euro 2016 semi-final with Germany by comprehensively ending Iceland's captivating and historic run.

Fresh from their remarkable victory against England, the smallest country to ever grace a major tournament arrived at the Stade de France looking to create an even bigger shock.

There was to be no happy ending to the biggest match in Icelandic football, though, as Didier Deschamps' men shook off the sluggishness that had dogged them up until this point to win a thoroughly entertaining quarter-final 5-2.

World champions Germany now await in Marseille this Thursday, with a record-breaking first-half display key to France's victory against the neutrals' favourites.

Olivier Giroud's 12th-minute strike was Les Bleus' maiden first-half goal at this European Championship and proved the precursor to an avalanche, with Paul Pogba's towering header, a wonderful Dimitri Payet strike and inspired Antoine Griezmann effort putting them in cruise control.

It was the first time a side had scored four goals in the first half of a Euros match and unsurprisingly proved too much of a mountain to climb, with Giroud adding another shortly after Kolbeinn Sigthorsson pulled one back.

That strike, just like Birkir Bjarnason's late on, was celebrated wildly by Iceland's fantastic support. It was a case of expectancy overcoming hope at the Stade de France, where police carried out a controlled explosion on a suspicious vehicle outside the ground's perimeter in the hours before kick-off.

That news had little impact on the feel-good factor and French supporters joined their Icelandic counterparts in the Viking hand clap that has become so well-known during Euro 2016.

It was a show of togetherness and strength reflected by their players, who started brightly as Gylfi Sigurdsson aimed an early shot at his former Tottenham team-mate Hugo Lloris.

Bjarnason struck across goal but the opening minutes were far from one-way traffic, with Payet's effort from the edge of the box a warning shot followed shortly after by the opening goal. Blaise Matuidi superbly clipped the ball down the left for Giroud and the Arsenal striker beat Hannes Halldorsson with a low effort.

The impressive Iceland goalkeeper may well be disappointed not to keep the strike out, but there was little he could do to prevent Pogba's powerful header.

A giant leap saw the Juventus midfielder beat Jon Dadi Bodvarsson to a Griezmann corner, with the ball flying into the top corner.

It was a sucker punch Iceland came close to responding to thanks to the latest well-worked routine from Aron Gunnarsson's mammoth throw, leading Bodvarsson to direct just over.

Payet's intelligence and wonderful technique saw him increase their lead, taking a touch away from danger and hitting a low left-footed strike across the goalkeeper.

Matters were to get even worse before half-time after Giroud stepped over a low, driven ball forwards by Pogba, with Griezmann racing through and audaciously clipping over Halldorsson.

It was a record half-time lead that Iceland quickly chipped away at, pulling one back 11 minutes after the restart as Sigthorsson poked home a clever Sigurdsson cross.

France regained their four-goal cushion within minutes as Payet delivered a lovely free-kick that Giroud headed past Halldorsson, but Iceland's attacking intent was not dampened in the Saint-Denis drizzle.

Alfred Finnbogason volleyed over and fellow substitute Sverrir Ingason forced an exceptional save out of Lloris, with handball appeals against Patrice Evra waved away.

That purpose was rewarded in the 84th minute as Bjarnason headed home Ari Skulason's cross, with Eliaquim Mangala's intervention needed shortly after to prevent Birkir Saevarsson setting up a third Iceland goal.

The attacks continued as veteran Eidur Gudjohnsen played out the closing stages, but France's quest for European Championship glory on home soil - as in 1984 - continues.

Belfast Telegraph

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