France v Iceland
Singtel TV Ch142 & StarHub Ch220, tomorrow 2.50am
PARIS • Didier Deschamps has been forced to deny he and his France team-mates disrespected the Iceland national anthem at a fixture between the teams almost 18 years ago, as the sides prepare to collide once again in the quarter-finals of Euro 2016 today.
Deschamps was forced to revisit events from September 1998, when he was captain of the then world champions, on the eve of the tie at the Stade de France.
Roger Lemerre's French team had travelled to Laugardalsvollur in Reykjavik for their first competitive game after the World Cup and the visiting players were caught on camera laughing during the pre-match rendition of the anthems.
An Icelandic journalist asked the current France manager what had prompted that reaction.
"I remember very well what happened that day, but you have misinterpreted the reaction," said Deschamps. "At no stage did any French player want to mock the Icelandic national anthem.
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France v Iceland
On Singtel TV Ch142 & StarHub Ch220
"It was just that the person singing La Marseillaise sang it, well, a little bit different with the pronunciation, which is why people started laughing.
"But, look, that's the past. We have a lot of respect for everything Iceland have achieved and are achieving at the moment.
"They have a team which includes players from the Premier League and they're not small-time players.
"They're not here by chance. They've done great things and they deserved to beat England in the last 16 because of what they produced on the pitch."
Deschamps must rejig his team today to compensate for the loss of N'Golo Kante and Adil Rami through suspension, with the Crystal Palace midfielder Yohan Cabaye and the uncapped Samuel Umtiti expected to start.
"Samuel is still a young player, but he has a lot of experience because he's already played in the Champions League with Lyon and was a U-20s world champion with France," said Deschamps.
The coach could yet tweak his formation to incorporate Kingsley Coman, so impressive against the Republic of Ireland, out wide at Cabaye's expense.
Regardless, the onus is on the hosts to buck a recent trend and start the game at pace.
Iceland have never beaten France in their 11 encounters (D3 L8). France won the previous meeting 3-2 in May 2012, having been 0-2 behind.
Iceland's six goals have comes from six men - Birkir Bjarnason, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Jon Dadi Bodvarsson, Arnor Ingvi Traustason, Ragnar Sigurdsson and Kolbeinn Sigthorsson.
France (72) have made many more attempts than Iceland (29) at Euro 2016 but have scored the same number of goals (six).
All Les Bleus' victories at this tournament have been secured late.
"We've lacked a bit of consistency and certainly aggression at the start of our matches," said the captain, Hugo Lloris.
"It's very French, I'd say. But we've won thanks to the team effort. That's the strength of this side, that ability to recover.
"We definitely have a lot more players who play at top European club sides than Iceland and we have a touch more experience. But, they've proved to be a very surprising outfit.
"Through a simple style of play, they focus on their strengths and have caused top sides like Portugal and England problems.
"If we go out there thinking, 'We have more talent so we'll win', we won't. We need to match them for commitment and motivation and then hope our own teamwork does the talking."
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE