France beats Iceland 5-2, setting up semifinal with Germany
SAINT-DENIS, FRANCE >> Olivier Giroud scored two goals to lead France to an emphatic 5-2 victory over Iceland on Sunday, sending the hosts into a European Championship semifinal against Germany.
It was a humbling but far from embarrassing exit for Iceland, which was playing in its first-ever international tournament and progressed much further than expected.
The French, though, have discovered their attacking ruthlessness just in time for their first semifinal in a decade on Thursday in Marseille.
"We have a lot of desire to get our own back for what happened at the World Cup," Giroud said of the quarterfinal loss to eventual champion Germany two years ago.
Giroud, who was booed by the team's fans in May, is proving to be an essential component of Les Bleus, netting the opener and heading in France's fifth goal in the second half at the Stade de France.
And he was clearly glad to be popular again with the supporters.
"I am delighted for the players as they deserve this, and for these fans who have been behind us for months," the Arsenal striker said through a translator. "To be able to offer them something to make them smile and feel happy ... I'm delighted about that."
Giroud helped to set up goals for Dimitri Payet and Antoine Griezmann, while Paul Pogba also scored in the first half for France, whose previous goals at Euro 2016 had all come after the break.
"I felt really good physically right from the start," Giroud said. "We are used to making bad starts ... but we were very clinical which is nice from a personal perspective."
The night began with rain descending on the field and the Viking slow capping ritual, with its "Huh" chant, booming around the stadium from the Iceland fans.
France wasn't going to have its home stadium to itself and Gylfi Sigurdsson even had the game's first shot although it was easily saved by France captain Hugo Lloris.
But inspirational chants and a strong team ethic only take a team so far. This was a night of French superiority; when stature and skill of the hosts was too mighty to curb.
The Iceland defense was breached with ease in the 12th minute when Blaise Matuidi lofted over a high pass into the path of the advancing Giroud, who clinically shot through the legs of goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson.
Then, Pogba soared above Jon Dadi Bodvarsson to meet Griezmann's corner and send a powerful header into the top corner in the 20th.
Pogba's leap was matched almost immediately by one from French President Francois Hollande in the VIP seats.
Worse was to come for the Icelanders with quick-fire goals inside two minutes before halftime.
Moussa Sissoko's cross was headed down by Giroud and Griezmann knocked the ball into the path to Payet, who drilled a low shot in the corner of the net.
The fourth goal saw Giroud and Griezmann combine again. Griezmann raced onto Giroud's flick-on before dinking a shot over the advancing Halldorsson.
Payet went over to kiss the left boot of Griezmann, the team's top scorer with four goals at Euro 2016.
However, just like its raucous fans, Iceland wasn't done.
Gylfi Sigurdsson whipped in a cross and Kolbeinn Sigthorsson slid past Samuel Umtiti, the Barcelona-bound defender making his France debut, to poke the ball over the line in the 56th.
Would it be the start of an astonishing comeback? No.
The four-goal cushion was restored by Giroud within three minutes, connecting with Payet's free kick to glance a header into the net.
Giroud cupped his ears to the crowd in celebration. His critics had been silenced.
But Iceland had the final say on the quarterfinal, with Birkir Bjarnason evading Patrice Evra to head Lloris.
"Iceland didn't give up at any stage," Giroud said. "They were a very valiant and determined side who kept on going until the end."
And its fans remained chanting in their seats long after the final whistle, taking in the surroundings.
It was an enchanting tournament debut by Iceland, drawing against Poland before eliminating England — an achievement that will be remembered along with the feats of the new European champion, to be crowned back at the Stade de France next Sunday.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.