Iceland vs France: A Classic David vs Goliath Clash – If you would have placed a bet on Iceland as quarterfinal opponents of France in the current edition of Euro 2016, you would have been labelled an Optimist at best and a Crackpot at worst. And after their opening encounter against Portugal, the Portuguese Captain and global superstar Cristiano Ronaldo labelled them as a “Small team” and that they would “Do nothing”. How Cristiano would wish to take his words back. Not only have this Nordic country defied all expectations to reach here; they have won plenty of fans.
Iceland vs France: A Classic David vs Goliath Clash
Pundits and common folk alike have been effusive in their praise for this tiny team with a giant heart. Against the French national team, one of the early tournament favorites, it will take something very special to pull off an upset. Driven by Dimitri Payet, their form has been patchy but that doesn’t make them any less of a favorite heading into Stade de France on Sunday.
Will Pogba finally deliver or will the Fairytale go on?
Arriving into the tournament, Paul Pogba was carrying millions of hopes. His declaration of becoming the “The Complete midfielder” and to win “Ballon D’Or” didn’t help him lightening the burden either. So far, his performances haven’t quite fulfilled the expectations Pundits and Fans had of him. There is no doubting the quality of Pogba, however, one feels that putting too much of burden on himself has proven to be a detriment for him. Where it was expected Pogba would dazzle and guide his team through, it has been Dimitri Payet who continued his fine form from the Boleyn Ground to France. The sign of Atletico marksman Antoine Griezmann coming to life with the two goals against Republic of Ireland is music to Didier Deschamps’ ears, but it is Pogba’s contribution that he must be concerned with.
Though being disciplined in the second game against Albania must have given him confidence, it’s his contribution in front of the goal that he must be anxious to correct. A player of his stature is bound to fine form. For the French team though, the sooner he finds it, the better. Whereas the hosts have the obligation of sorts to their people to win the tournament to consider their campaign a success, Iceland have already achieved it. The nation with a population of 330000 has defied all odds to go past the likes of Portugal and England. Their teamwork has been exemplary, their work ethic commendable. While the labels of “Long-balls” and “Defensive” maybe considered harsh given they don’t possess the talents of some of their opponents, even Lars Lagerback knows deep down that downing the French is by no means comparable to their earlier exploits but the showings of his charges in this tournament has driven him to boldly declare that they can overcome their mighty opponents.
Will the older Warhorses correct their previous failings?
When the national team rebelled against the previous coach Raymond Domenech during the 2010 World Cup edition, it marked a new low in their team’s history. Patrice Evra, a survivor of those dark days knows that while the France team maybe marching ahead there is still a lingering doubt in some minds. One more loss and the French may self-implode. Worse, it could happen even at half-time. That’s why he’s more than determined to make it right this time around.The fact that this could be his final outing with the national team could be an extra motivational factor. At 35, not many will be backing him to make it to Russia in 2018. It is a bit unfair that if in case Iceland pull off an upset of the decade, the Pundits and journalists will be more focussed on dissecting the dressing room atmosphere than giving credit to their opponents. To be fair though, it might exactly be the case.
Kante’s absence: How big a loss?
If Leicester city have managed to tie down Jamie Vardy, they know that doing the same with Kante is next to impossible. With the big clubs circling around him, it’s only a matter of “When” and not “If” before he finally departs to ply his trade for one of the big boys. The Leicester fairytale was possible in a large part to N’Golo Kante’s heroics. The diminutive midfielder was the beating heart for the foxes’ midfield. Breaking up attacks and driving their counterattacks, it was his efforts that were largely responsible for Vardy and Riyad Mahrez stealing the limelights.You don’t get called the “Seasson’s best signings” by legendary Sir Alex Ferguson for no reason. His form prompted Deschamps to draft him into the first team and he hasn’t let his manager down. Therefore, his suspension against Iceland is a big headache for Didier Deschamps. Combine that with the absence of Adil Rami, it presents a tough challenge for the former World Cup winner. However, in Samuel Umtiti and even to some extent Eliaquim Mangala, he has enough coverage. In the midfield though, same can’t be said.
The match presents the biggest games of the lives of the Icelandic players.Pull through this one and it might end on your epitaph. For the French, it is one hurdle in between them and the ultimate glory. Will the history repeat itself (Iceland has never managed to beat France. Source: Opta Stats) or a new chapter unfold?