Iceland forward Jon Dadi Bodvarsson expects hosts France to be the toughest test yet for his team-mates on their incredible Euro 2016 adventure.
Heimir Hallgrimsson and Lars Lagerback’s side return for Sunday’s quarter-final to Stade de France – the venue where Bodvarsson opened the scoring in the dramatic 2-1 Group F win over Austria.
A stunning last-16 win over England by the same scoreline followed for the tournament minnows but, after watching Roy Hodgson’s side descend into disarray during the second half of that match in Nice, Kaiserslautern player Bodvarsson expects a far tougher test against Les Bleus.
“I think this will be a more difficult game,” he told a pre-match news conference.
“France play with more tempo on the ball [than England] and the
refore it might be harder to defend.
“They have a very good change of pace and are quick. They have some good individuals and we just have to be ready for that.”
Didier Deschamps decisively gave his team an injection of pace during France’s 2-1 win over Republic of Ireland during the previous round.
Trailing 1-0 at the interval to Robbie Brady’s second-minute penalty, Deschamps sent on Bayern Munich winger Kingsley Coman for holding midfielder N’Golo Kante and moved Antoine Griezmann into a central attacking role.
Atletico Madrid forward Griezmann responded superbly with a second-half brace and his coach must now decide whether or not to go with the more expansive formation from the start against Iceland, as Kante serves a suspension due to collecting two bookings in the tournament.
Alternatively, Crystal Palace’s Yohan Cabaye could act as a straight swap in the centre of midfield, while centre-back Adil Rami is also banned for the match in Saint-Denis. Lyon’s Barcelona-bound Samuel Umtiti is tipped to win the nod over Eliaquim Mangala to partner Laurent Koscielny in the heart of defence and win a maiden international cap.
“I don’t know what will happen,” said France right-back Bacary Sagna, whose vast experience leaves him wary of Iceland’s progress to date.
“We have to be aware. It can happen against anyone – it happened against England, it happened against Portugal. They are good teams so it can happen to us too.
“We have to show that we are superior and that we are ready to fight.
Iceland’s coaching duo do not have such forced selection posers to contend with but fatigue could be a concern, as the same XI have started all four matches in their campaign – getting through plenty of work due to having the lowest average possession count (29.7 per cent) of any team at Euro 2016.
That consistency means national icon Eidur Gudjohnsen has been restricted to a substitute role, although Bodvarsson paid tribute to the veteran’s invaluable influence on a squad marching into unchartered territory.
“He is one of the players I grew up watching,” he added. “He has had a fantastic career and naturally I looked up to him when I was younger. It’s just fantastic to have him in the squad.”
Key Opta stats:
– Iceland have never beaten France in their 11 encounters (D3 L8). France won the previous meeting 3-2 in May 2012, having been 2-0 behind.
– France are unbeaten in their last 16 major tournament games played on home soil, winning 14 and drawing two. Their last defeat dates back to July 1960 in the inaugural European Championship against Czechoslovakia (0-2).
– France have attempted 44 more shots than Iceland at Euro 2016 but have scored the same number of goals (six).
– Iceland are one of two teams, alongside Wales, to have scored in all of their games at Euro 2016, with a different player scoring each of their goals – Birkir Bjarnason, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Jon Dadi Bodvarsson, Arnor Ingvi Traustason, Ragnar Sigurdsson and Kolbeinn Sigthorsson).
– The two goals scored from throw-ins at Euro 2016 have both come from Iceland. Kari Arnason has been the assist provider both times.
– Antoine Griezmann is the first French player to score three goals in a Euro since Zinedine Zidane in 2004.