SO, there was another seismic sporting shock yesterday – no, not at Wimbledon – Germany missed three penalties!
Still, it wasn’t enough for them to lose to Italy in a shoot-out that will be remembered for years. The Germans now await the winners of tonight’s final quarter-final between the hosts France and the minnows of Iceland.
Is heart ruling head with predictions about France?
FRANCE were the pre-tournament favourites to win the European Championships this summer. As well as having a good squad of players, there was the huge sentimental factor. On home soil at both the 1984 Euros and more famously at the 1998 World Cup, the French swept to glory inspired by Michel Platini and Zinedine Zidane.
The hosts are still very much alive and kicking at Euro 2016, but they have not produced the type of performances that have made observers believe they are watching the winners in waiting.
France needed very late goals from Dimitri Payet and Antoine Griezmann to beat Romania and Albania and shared a goalless draw with Switzerland in the group stages, which was all rather unconvincing. Then they had to come from behind to beat the Republic of Ireland in the last-16 as the Irish visibly tired after having three days less to prepare for the game.
Now they return to the Stade de France to take on Iceland. They are huge favourites to win this game and all that matters is that they get through to the semi-final. But surely this is the night to make a statement of intent in front of 75,000 supporters that the class of 2016 can match those of 1984 and 1998.
They’ve beaten England, so why not France?
APOLOGIES to any Welsh fans here, but the Iceland story has been the most uplifting of Euro 2016. The country that should rank alongside Luxembourg and Malta has been causing shock waves amongst the establishment of European football.
Beating England 2-1 in the last-16 in Nice on Monday night was the biggest shock of these Championships, and possibly any major football tournament. Maybe North Korea beating Italy in the 1966 World Cup or Cameron upsetting Argentina in 1990 would rank highly, but the Icelanders’ victory felt seismic and historic.
Now the Icelanders have knocked out England, it’s the small matter of France in Paris. But one thing that has been clear about these debutants is they fear no-one and are very confident. Forget that captain Aron Gunnarsson plays in the Championship for Cardiff or that centre-half Kari Arnason used to play for Plymouth, Rotherham and Aberdeen, these are real men of substance.
They are inspired when they pull on the Icelandic shirt and it’s that pride and determination, regardless of football heritage or population size, which has made the rest of Europe sit up and take notice.
With what has been happening in 2016 when everything seems to have been turned upside down, why should we believe the logic that a game against the French should be the end of the road for Iceland?
Player of the Day: Olivier Giroud
FEW players divide opinion quite like Arsenal and France striker Olivier Giroud. He effectively replaced Robin van Persie when he arrived at the Emirates in 2012, but no one regards him as a like-for-like replacement. He has scored 82 goals for Arsenal in four seasons, so that shows he is a 20-goal a year striker, but it doesn’t feel like enough.
The Gunners have never threatened to win the Premier League and never gone beyond the last-16 in the Champions League with him as their main striker. And no one regards him in the class of Thierry Henry or Ian Wright as classic Arsenal legends.
For France, he has also had to try and follow in Henry’s footsteps and it has not been easy, despite a reasonable record of 18 goals from 52 caps. In friendlies leading up to this tournament, Giroud was even booed by French fans who were unhappy to see him in the team, which is a challenge for any international footballer to face.
There is an argument that he is only first-choice here because coach Didier Deschamps opted to leave out Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema because of a blackmail case involving him and midfielder Mathieu Valbuena. Giroud scored on opening night against Romania, but not since and so could do with a goal against Iceland to justify his place in the team. But if Giroud becomes a European Champion a week today, perhaps some of those doubters will be forced to back down.
French of the Day
Ce n’est que l’Islande! (It’s only Iceland!)
France v Iceland, 8pm, ITV
Gordon Smith: SFA said no to approaches for Lars Lagerback and Roy Hodgson for Scotland job
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