It is France who will face Germany on Thursday for a place in the final of Euro 2016 after giving Iceland’s underdogs a chasing. In the process, England’s humiliation was finally complete.
Just when Roy Hodgson thought an ignominious week could not get any worse, the sight of the hosts, all pizzazz and panache, ripping England’s conquerors apart provided a depressing denouement and a lesson in how to prevail.
Didier Deschamps had the luxury of spending the entirety of the second half, his side already 4-0 to the good, pondering how to overcome the Germans in Marseilles’ Stade Velodrome.
The world champions will not prove as obliging opponents as Iceland, but with Dimitri Payet and Antoine Griezmann both sprinkling stardust in goalscoring cameos, and Olivier Giroud boosted by a brace, better teams that the minnows could be undressed.
It just seemed this was a game too far for Iceland.
All week the warning emanating from inside the French camp had been about shaking off a propensity to start slowly. A devastating opening half showed the sermon had stuck.
There was the invention and movement of Payet and Griezmann, the tenacity of the metronomic Paul Pogba and, to start it all off, the lethal finishing of Giroud. At times, the striker seems to be as treated with as much suspicion here as he does at Arsenal, but his contribution was crucial in allowing the ascendancy to be grasped. Unlike England, France never let it go.
His goal owed everything to the timing of a run behind Kari Arnason to reach Blaise Matuidi’s clipped pass over Iceland’s back-peddling rearguard.
Giroud surged into left-hand side of the penalty area, Hannes Halldorsson advanced to try and narrow the angle and saw a shot arrow through his legs.
It was not long before France were attacking down the opposite flank with Pogba asking Griezmann to chase. Iceland conceded a corner, but respite was brief.
Griezmann’s centre was met by the charging Pogba, who rose above Jon Dadi Bodvarsson and powered a header beyond Birkir Saevarsson guarding the line. Two chances, two goals. Clinical.
Iceland had their opportunities. Yet when Aron Gunnarsson cranked up his long throw-in in the 25th minute, and Kolbenin Sigthorsson flicked on, the final touch from Bodvarsson was over the crossbar. Not for France the sort of lax defending England offered in Nice. That Bodvarsson found himself under pressure made all the difference.
Griezmann then teed up Payet, who transferred the ball from right foot to left and crashed an angled shot from outside the area into the corner of Halldorsson’s goal and, then in the final minute before the break, the piece de resistance.
Pogba threaded a pass forward, Giroud dummied it and Griezmann surged through before producing an impudent dinked finish.
Iceland must ensure their adventure here is only the start given how their exploits have quickened the pulse. To their credit, they maintained their record of scoring in every round.
Sigthorsson turned home Gylfi Sigurdsson’s cross from close range on 56 minutes before Hugo Lloris produced a stunning save to deny Sverrir Ingason.
Sigthorsson then turned home Gylfi Sigurdsson’s cross from close range on 56 minutes before Hugo Lloris was beaten by Birkir Bjarnason’s header with six minutes remaining.
Yet, in between, Giroud had benefited from poor defending to head home Payet’s free-kick. Allez les bleus