Surprise Euro 2016 quarter-finalists Iceland want a fairytale ending to their run, like the one that Leicester City enjoyed when they stunned the soccer world by clinching the Premier League title this season, team coaches said on Wednesday.
Leicester, with no big names in the squad, finished ahead of far more illustrious English clubs in what was one of the biggest upsets in club football.
Iceland, in their first major tournament, have already taken the competition by storm, advancing past the group stage and then beating England 2-1 on Monday to set up a quarter-final clash with hosts France.
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"I think I would like it to end like it ended with Leicester City," Iceland joint coach Heimir Hallgrimsson told reporters. "They played on their strengths and we are trying to play on our strengths.
"There is the same team spirit in both teams. We are willing to work for each other."
While Iceland had already exceeded expectations, they were ready to face France in much the same way as they did England.
"This was a game for them (England) to lose. All the pressure was on England," Hallgrimsson said. "They mocked us a bit before the game but we had nothing to lose. When you go into a game like that, you can be relaxed and show your best.
"Against France we can go relaxed and show our best. We don't have the pressure of the entire world that we need to win this game. We want to win but we don't absolutely need to. That is a big benefit for us."
Hallgrimsson and joint coach Lars Lagerback warned, however, that France would be keeping up the pressure until the end.
"That is why they are scoring at the end of games," Hallgrimsson said. "Because they are really tiring their opponents. Everybody is playing against France with that in mind, not to concede.
"They keep on going until the end. They tire their opponents and at the end of the games they score vital goals. We have to concentrate the whole game, not 90 minutes but 95-96 minutes against France."
The euphoria over England's victory had had a brief impact on discipline, Lagerback said, with some players arriving late for dinner on Tuesday and the Swede having to remind them of their responsibilities.
"It was a bit sloppy. A few of the guys were late to dinner. I told them: 'Don't think you are over the hill because you beat the English'," Lagerback said. "On and off the pitch we have to be 100 percent professional.
"Twenty minutes late is disrespectful for the team," said the former Sweden coach.
WHEN DOES FRANCE V ICELAND KICK OFF? WHERE IS IT BEING PLAYED?
It kicks off at 20:00 BST on Sunday 3rd July at Stade de France in Saint-Denis.
HOW CAN I WATCH IT ON TV?
The match is live on ITV, with coverage starting from 19:15 BST.
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
France rode their luck somewhat to top Group A, relying on late goals to flatter their efforts in the first two matches and then being held to a goalless draw by Switzerland. Then, in the last 16, they were on the ropes against Ireland – until Antoine Griezmann's star turn saw them take advantage of opponents who'd had three days' less rest. Huge question marks remain over how far this side can go.
Iceland, by contrast, have already massively overachieved, relative to their expectations. They played brilliantly pragmatic football to come second in Group F, and their victory over England was a masterclass in the strength of the collective versus the a group of disinterested individuals.
WHO THEY'LL FACE NEXT
A semi-final against France or Iceland in Marseille await the winners on Thursday July 7.
France: Didier Deschamps will be forced to rejig once again, with centre back Adil Rami and holding midfielder N'Golo Kante suspended. Rami may not be sorely missed after looking shaky at times, but Deschamps will have to field an untested pair at the heart of his back line. Samuel Umtiti seems to have the edge over Eliaquim Mangala and could win his first cap by teaming up with Laurent Koscielny. Deschamps is expected to replace Kante with Yohan Cabaye.
Iceland news to follow...
Patrice Evra (France): "We keep scaring ourselves, we're crazy. If we keep doing that, we might not go through. We need to stop reacting and start acting. Before England played them, English journalists were asking me what it would be like (for France) to face England and I told them 'wait a minute, guys, you're not there yet'. People go on about long throws and all that but Iceland are not just that. They're a good team who can play good football and they did not get to that stage by accident. We have all due respect for Iceland, which does not mean we don't believe we can't beat them."
- Iceland have never beaten France in their 11 encounters (D3 L8). Their last head-to-head dates back to May 2012, a game France won 3-2 after having been 2-0 behind.
- The last two encounters between France and Iceland have produced 10 goals, both finishing 3-2 to the French.
- France have reached the quarter-finals for the third consecutive major tournament (Euro 2012, World Cup 2014, Euro 2016), their best run since 1996-2000. The last time they made the semis was 10 years ago, at the 2006 World Cup.
- 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 Championships against Czechoslovakia (0-2).
- The two goals France have conceded at Euro 2016 have been from the penalty spot (v Romania and Republic of Ireland).
- France have conceded fewer shots on target than any other team at this year’s European Championships (3 in 4 games).
- 11 of France’s last 12 goals at the Euros have been scored after half-time.
- 50% of France’s goals at Euro 2016 have been headers (3 out of 6).
- France have attempted 44 more shots than Iceland at Euro 2016 but have scored the same number of goals (6).
- Iceland – taking part in their first ever major tournament – are still unbeaten at Euro 2016, drawing their first two games and winning the next two. In fact, they have only lost once across their last 10 competitive matches (W5 D4).
- Iceland are one of two teams, alongside Wales, to have scored in all of their games at Euro 2016.
- All four of Iceland’s games at Euro 2016 have seen both teams score. o Iceland’s six goals at Euro 2016 have been scored by six different players (Bjarnason, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Bödvarsson, Traustason, Ragnar Sigurdsson and 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.
- Iceland have averaged the lowest possession at Euro 2016 so far (29.7%).
- Iceland have started with the same line-up in all four of their games at Euro 2016.
- None of France’s last 16 games at the Stade de France has ended in a draw (W11 L5). No team has ever beaten them there in a major tournament (W4 D1 at World Cup 1998 and Euro 2016).
- Meanwhile, Iceland’s two previous games at the Stade de France have ended 3-2 to the French in October 1999 and 2-1 to Iceland against Austria in this year’s European Championships.
- Paul Pogba has attempted 20 shots in major tournaments (10 at World Cup 2014, 10 at Euro 2016) but only one of them has found the back of the net.
- Antoine Griezmann has scored three of France’s last four goals. However he’s never found the net for the French national team at the Stade de France (603 minutes).
- Griezmann is the first French player to score three goals in a Euro since Zinedine Zidane in 2004.
- Birkir Bjarnason’s first goal for Iceland was against France in May 2012. He scored his country’s first goal at Euro 2016, against Portugal.
France 2/5, Iceland 9/1, Draw 10/3
Minimal. France are no England.
What matches were the bookmakers watching over the last couple of days? For 45 minutes Ireland showed against France exactly what a well-drilled, confident team can do against XI superstars; and Iceland hammered that message home again over 90 minutes on Monday. Don't get us wrong: we're backing France to get through, probably in extra time. We've a feeling it'll be a very, very nervous night for the hosts.
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