The last quarter-final game of the Euro 2016 between France and Iceland may yet produce the biggest drama as they fight for a semifinal berth against current world champions Germany.
Iceland have enjoyed a Cinderella route to this stage of the competition as they are relishing every moment of their debut campaign at the European Championships while France are hoping to emulate home triumphs of 1984 and 1998.
The Les Bleus haven’t blown teams away so far in the competition but have a rich load of talents to achieve this. They have been tagged late show team as they have won two of their four games so far by late rallies while coming from behind to beat 10-man Republic of Ireland in a grudge match.
However, Iceland have shown thus far that they can hold their own against any team and the manner at which they came back from a goal down to beat England in the last round of 16 made all the other teams take great recognition and France won’t underestimate them which makes it even more exciting for the neutrals to watch.
Surprisingly, Iceland have scored the same number of goals (Six) as France from an impressive 29 shots on target while the hosts have made 72 attempts and they have an impressive work-rate, covering a distance of 442.0km compared to France 425.0km.
Nigeria’s biggest football portal, FCNaija.com highlights the three key battles that will win the game and confirm the last semifinal place.
Antoine Griezman vs Hannes Halldorsson
Griezman came into life for France in the round of 16 clash against Republic of Ireland where he notched a brace to make it three strikes in the competition so far.
He will come up against one of the biggest motivators in Iceland football history Halldorsson who is a film director when he is not playing football – a remarkable story he can create with an unlikely win against the tournament hosts.
However, the Iceland goalkeeper will have his hands full as Griezman is a very tricky customer and his partnership with Olivier Giroud in attack has grown and this was evident in the game against Ireland when he latched onto the Arsenal man knock down to score.
France are blessed in attack and apart from their six goals scored so far they’ve hit the post six times also and Griezman is the focal point of that attack.
Paul Pogba vs Gylfi Sigurdsson
The absence of N’Golo Kante due to suspension will afford Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba to play in his preferred position, the holding midfielder role where he can firmly dedicate the flow of proceedings.
Obviously, he will be partnered in the middle by the energetic Blaise Matuidi which will afford him the opportunity to join the attack at will but Swansea City midfielder Sigurdsson is a dangerous visitor who could create the needed space for his teammates to score or even strike himself if Pogba is caught out of position.
Iceland is likely to be on the back foot in this battle so Sigurdsson will be massive in helping them transit from defense to attack in relentless ease and pace while Pogba will be tasked with breaking down such over drive and orchestrate the game from midfield.
Dimitri Payet vs Birkir Sævarsson
Payet is arguably one of the players of the tournament so far and he single handedly carried France in the opening stages and will hope to continue his good fortune in the quarter final clash against Iceland but will have Birkir Sævarsson to contend with.
Sævarsson is the fourth fastest sprinter at the Euro 2016 so pace won’t be a problem coming up against the West Ham United man but will have to be mentally alert to face the trickery of the former Marseille playmaker.
The three duels highlighted will be the cherry on the cake for neutrals and although there will be joy and tears at the end of the day – football will be the biggest winner as Iceland and France will entertain in a special match tonight.