Euro 2016: France to scale 'Everest'

Joyous fans celebrating in the rain with midfielder Paul Pogba, after France beat Iceland 5-2 in their Euro 2016 quarter-final at the Stade de France. The Juventus player netted the hosts' second goal.
Joyous fans celebrating in the rain with midfielder Paul Pogba, after France beat Iceland 5-2 in their Euro 2016 quarter-final at the Stade de France. The Juventus player netted the hosts' second goal. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

They impress in ousting Iceland but defence needs to improve if they are to beat Germany

PARIS • France showed against Iceland that they could score plenty of goals but their defence once again looked porous and is a real worry for coach Didier Deschamps as they prepare to face mighty Germany for a place in the European Championship final.

"And now, Everest," warned a headline in French sports daily L'Equipe the morning after Sunday's 5-2 quarter-final win over the sensations of the tournament took France through to a semi-final battle with the world champions.

That headline summed up the task awaiting the host nation, who have firepower up front but do not look ideally equipped at the back for such a daunting challenge.

Leading 4-0 at half-time against Iceland, France dropped their guard in the second half, conceding two goals to allow their brave but limited opponents some consolation.

It was not the first time in the tournament that France's defence showed signs of nerves and looked vulnerable, notably at set pieces.

UP FOR THE CHALLENGE

We're growing. This is good for our confidence... There are still some things we need to work on and we'll do that all together but yes, we are feeling good.

OLIVIER GIROUD, who has scored thrice in the tournament, fancies France's chances against Germany in the semi-finals.

Centre-back Samuel Umtiti, winning his first cap in the absence of Adil Rami through suspension, was not totally assured and left-back Patrice Evra, 35, looked his age with another sluggish display.

Deschamps, who lost his most reliable centre-back in Raphael Varane through injury in the build-up to the Finals, has several options.

He could stick with Umtiti, bring back Rami or play Eliaquim Mangala.

Whoever partners Laurent Koscielny at the heart of the backline, France's defence will clearly be their main weakness when they take on Germany on Thursday in Marseille.

Deschamps will have been satisfied with a few other things he saw on Sunday, notably the fact that his side scored plenty of goals and took the game to their opponents straight away, which they had failed to do in previous matches.

"We're growing," striker Olivier Giroud, who scored twice and was named Man of the Match, said. "This is good for our confidence.

"We had a problem with the way we started our games and that has been solved. There are still some things we need to work on and we'll do that all together but yes, we are feeling good."

Antoine Griezmann and Dimitri Payet, who scored a fine goal each, also shone and Griezmann moved to the top of the scorers' table with four goals.

France, chasing their third triumph at a major event on home soil after winning the 1984 European Championship and 1998 World Cup, had set a place in the last four as their minimum goal.

It could be argued, however, that they have yet to face a top team and that whether this tournament is a success or a failure will depend on how they fare against Germany, who have a record of beating them in the knockout stages of major tournaments.

"We're looking better but Germany remains Germany," said Deschamps, whose side lost to the eventual winners in the 2014 World Cup quarter-finals, not to mention painful semi-final exits at the 1982 and 1986 World Cups. France have not beaten the Germans in a competitive fixture since 1958.

"They are the best team in Europe and in the world and the only ones totally controlling the situation, with technical quality everywhere, from the goalkeeper to the forwards," the coach said. "We'll fight for our chances, knowing what we stand up against."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 05, 2016, with the headline 'France to scale 'Everest''. Print Edition | Subscribe