We’ve had one bore draw, a great team performance, a clash of European footballing giants and now this. If you thought England had to deal with pressure then think again.
Progress has been less than serene for Les Bleus’. They have been expected to win each and every game since the opening fixture comfortably and with stereotypically French levels of panache. Rather than respected foes, the hosts have been portrayed as navigating a slippery river crossing, knowing that one false step will result in total humiliation.
Time will tell if high pressure games against modest opponents will provide adequate preparation for Germany. Could such a tie could result in embarrassment for hosts lulled into a false sense of security by a straightforward passage to the semis (in the vein of Brazil 2014)?
Didier Deschamps must not let his team get ahead of themselves though, as England learned to their detriment. Iceland pose a real threat, are adaptable and disciplined and in that sense will provide a new challenge for France. The utterly abject nature of England’s performance in the round of 16 may have done the neutrals favourites a favour by drawing attention from Icelandic strengths to familiar English failings.
The French have tended to start slow before rallying and Iceland have been strong in opening halves; clearly an early goal for the outsiders could set nerves jangling. France do have attacking players in form with Griezmann and Payet dangerous and Paul Pogba flickering into life.
The defence poses more questions than it answers though and with Adil Rami missing and Samuel Umtiti (soon to be of Barcelona) having to play his first game of the competition, high balls and sharp interplay around the edge of the box could cause problems. Lars Lagerback will surely brief his charges to try and exploit Patrice Evra, who has looked every one of his 35 years during the early games.
Could Iceland go on and win the competition and thereby provide a shock even greater than Greece in 2004 or Leicester 2016? Could they keep dreams of an Iceland vs Wales final alive? Probably not, but they will have had a great tournament whatever the result on Sunday night. If they take the lead and the mighty (and soon to be legendary) Icelandic clap starts to echo around an anxious Stade de France, then the potential is there for the biggest shock in international history.
Andrew Grillo, The Sweeper Football Blog