Vikings storm Paris as Iceland dream big

Paris (AFP) – Iceland fans staged a Viking invasion of Paris on Sunday, hoping that their team can pull off another giant-killing feat against host nation France in the Euro 2016 quarter-final.

Several thousand fans turned bars near the Paris landmark Moulin Rouge into a sea of blue and red Iceland shirts as the surprise package of the tournament enjoyed what they hope will not be their last party in France.

“It’s a day of joy and victory. Everything is possible,” said Gudny Gardars, 40, whose boyfriend Olafur Rafnsson, 43, was wearing one of the horned Viking helmets that have become a familiar sight during the tournament.

They travelled to France two days ago having seen Iceland pull off one of the biggest shocks in world football by humiliating England 2-1 in the last-16 match.

Like the blue-shirted throng around them, they believe another upset is possible against Didier Deschamps’ hot favourites in the 1900 GMT kickoff at the Stade de France.

“We have big hearts and football is about heart and passion, not individuals,” Gudny said.

“If France win today, it is still a win for Iceland because we have done a great tournament,” said Kristin Kristinsdottir, 38. “And we have had a great welcome in France.”

Iceland had never qualified for a major football tournament before Euro 2016.

Battling through the group stage would have been seen as a success, but few people really believed the team built around skilful midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson would reach the last eight of Europe’s football extravaganza.

The prize on offer on Sunday is a semi-final against world champions Germany.

Back home in Reykjavik, the fan zone has been extended to accommodate 30,000 people — almost one tenth of Iceland’s 330,000 population — for the biggest day in the country’s football history.

– Respect for Iceland –

Hjortur Waltersson had caught a flight to France on Saturday.

“Everybody’s watching football today in Iceland. People that changed channels when there was football on, now they are going to the game,” he said.

The French team are not taking anything for granted.

“It’s not by chance Iceland have made it through,” France goalkeeper and captain Hugo Lloris said on Saturday.

“Iceland have had a great run since the beginning of the tournament. We have a lot of respect for Iceland, we watched their great performance against England and we won’t be surprised.”

France have not been completely convincing so far, needing late goals to overcome Romania and Albania in the group stage, while Antoine Griezmann rescued his side with two goals after they fell behind in the second minute against the Republic of Ireland in the last round.

Having plotted Iceland’s incredible rise alongside former Sweden boss Lars Lagerback, co-coach Heimir Hallgrimsson — who is also a dentist in his homeland — said his side’s limited expectations were an advantage.

“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,” he said.

“You dream big. But we are realistic, we can play the best game of our lives and still lose against France.”

Whoever comes through Sunday’s game will face the Germans in a semi-final on Thursday in Marseille.

The World Cup holders ended their long-standing hex against Italy, beating the Azzurri 6-5 on penalties after Saturday’s game finished 1-1 at the end of 90 minutes and extra time.

Mesut Ozil’s second-half opener for Germany was cancelled out by a Leonardo Bonucci penalty to force a fruitless extra-time.

It fell to one of Germany’s less celebrated players — 26-year-old Cologne defender Jonas Hector — to become the hero as he scored the 18th kick in a remarkable shoot-out.

It was Germany’s first win over Italy at a major tournament at the ninth attempt.

Portugal and superstar Cristiano Ronaldo will face Wales and his Real Madrid teammate Gareth Bale in the first semi-final on Wednesday in Lyon.

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