Hosts France wary of Iceland Euro 2016 pitfall

Paris (AFP) – Didier Deschamps’ France will be wary of falling victim to the same trap that ensnared England as the Euro 2016 hosts take on rank outsiders Iceland for a place in the semi-finals on Sunday.

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.

France coach Deschamps, who lifted the Euro 2000 trophy as France captain, said the hosts would not be underestimating their opponents.

“The players know that Iceland aren’t here by chance. If they’re here it’s because they deserve to be and have quality,” he said.

“Iceland deserved to beat England, and they did it through the quality of their play.”

Iceland are hoping to imitate Wales by reaching the last four on their tournament debut, but France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris was quick to rule out any complacency from Les Bleus.

“We didn’t need to see the Wales result to know you need to be careful of every side in the competition,” he said. 

“There have been surprises right from the outset of this tournament.”

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.

And defender Bacary Sagna warned his team-mates they will eventually be “punished” if they fail to address their tendency to start matches slowly as they head into the latter stages.

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 Leicester City midfielder.

– ‘Dream big’ –

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.”

Iceland captain Aron Gunnarsson is set to start in midfield after overcoming a back problem that had restricted him in training.

“I feel well, I had a training session yesterday and this morning. I can’t wait for the game tomorrow, everyone else trained with us so everyone’s fit and ready,” he told reporters on Saturday.

Gunnarsson will have the daunting task of trying to contain Juventus star Paul Pogba, but the Cardiff City midfielder is looking forward to the challenge. 

“Playing against bigger teams is always going to be tough, but you’re in this to test yourselves. It’s going to be a big test for us, but we’re ready for it,” said Gunnarsson.

“I feel better and better after each game that passes, the games get bigger and bigger but somehow the pressure isn’t on us. We can approach these games a bit more relaxed than our opponents.”

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