The France manager, Didier Deschamps, has warned Germany they will not enjoy “a stroll in the park” in Thursday’s semi-final in Marseille after Les Bleus produced their most impressive performance of the European Championship to eliminate Iceland from the tournament.
They scored four times before the interval to settle the tie against the team who had knocked England out in the round of 16 and set up a mouth-watering contest at Stade Vélodrome. France have not beaten the Germans in a competitive fixture since 1958 and departed Brazil at the hands of the eventual World Cup winners two years ago but there is a confidence that that wretched record can be checked now.
“We showed in the second half against the Republic of Ireland and here, against Iceland, that we’re playing better now than we were,” said Deschamps. “Look, Germany are Germany. They’re the reigning world champions and one of the best sides at the European Championship. They had a scare against Italy in the quarter-final but other than that, they’ve been in control of all the games they’ve played. But it won’t be a stroll in the park for them: we’ll go all out for it. We’re playing in France, our own country, and we’ll go all out for it. We have to remember anything is possible.”
The teams’ last meeting was actually in a friendly last November on the night three suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the Stade de France, killing one bystander, as terrorist atrocities across Paris left 130 people dead. There was a reminder of the legacy of those attacks here, with police carrying out a controlled explosion on a vehicle illegally parked within the security perimeter outside the ground four hours before kick-off.
Yet the locals could end up basking in their team’s utter dominance as Iceland were swept aside. The national side’s pre-tournament objective to reach the last four, as stated by the president of the French Football Federation Noël le Graët, has already been achieved. “We can be pleased with out performance tonight,” said Olivier Giroud, who joined his team-mates in celebrations in front of the home support after the final whistle. “There was a lot of quality there. We need to erase the small defensive mistakes we made because, against Germany, we’ll pay a heavy price for those.
“But we were very clinical and came out fighting. It will be a totally different match on Thursday. The Germans are the world champions and they’re often in the last four of major tournaments but, as a group, we have a lot of desire to try and get our own back for what happened in the World Cup. We beat them here in a friendly match, winning 2-0, back in November but it will be completely different in Marseille. We’re playing a European semi-final in front of a home crowd. I’m proud of what we’re achieving. I hope we come out with the right result once again.”
The departing Iceland joint-manager, Lars Lagerback, bemoaned his team’s “silly mistakes” in the first half as they were overwhelmed, but took time to celebrate a ground-breaking four-and-a-half-year tenure with the national side. Reaching the quarter-final represented fine reward for the smallest nation ever to grace a major finals, with the Swede revelling in his team’s achievements. “It’s been a fantastic journey for me, and I feel all the positivity and interest deep in my heart,” said Lagerback. “I didn’t enjoy the first 45 minutes tonight but otherwise I’ve enjoyed every minute I’ve spent in Iceland and with the team. It’s been a privilege to take part in this journey.
“It’s been something special, working and developing things together, and with the results we’ve achieved. They will always have a high place in my heart. The future? I don’t know. I haven’t closed any doors, but we’ll see. I’ll listen to offers. Lagerback suggested the joint manager, Haimir Hallgrimsson, should now take sole charge of the team before the qualification campaign for the 2018 World Cup.
“We’re disappointed, but incredibly proud,” said the captain, Aron Gunnarsson. “It’s been an amazing experience. I am lost for words. It’s a terrible game for us but, second half, we played better. We decided we couldn’t leave this competition in the way we played in the first half. We will learn from this. It will be good experience for us.”