Hugo Lloris backstopped Les Bleus to the Euro 2016 Semi-Finals as they tactically battered their opponents to make it France 5-2 Iceland in Paris.
France extinguished Iceland’s hopes of making it to the Euro 2016 Semi-Finals with a powerful performance in Paris. Their tactics were simple. They would stretch Iceland out; find the space between the lines and then the early balls beyond their defence. Highly effective and perfectly executed, they ran away with the game, as it ended France 5-2 Iceland.
France invites Iceland on
Iceland have caused a number of opponents trouble with their setup. With two strikers up front, they play a great number of long passes forward to get the ball moving towards them. They like to tempt teams on to them. This then allows the ball to go forward and over opposition men, taking them out of the game.
France had done their homework. They were content to let Iceland have the ball at the back and did not get drawn up the pitch. This saw them often drop and defend from middle third to invite Iceland to try and play through them.
The Icelanders were trying not to take the bait. They don’t have many players that are comfortable with the short passing game, often with their back to goal or little time on the ball. This saw them still try to look for their longer passes towards the strikers, but France would win the aerial challenges.
The French could then get their attacks moving as they looked to break Iceland’s shape in two ways.
Exposing the high line
Iceland play a back line that fluctuates due to what is occurring ahead of them. Pressure on the ball and they squeeze up to make the team as compact as possible from back to front. This makes them difficult to play through, as space is restricted between the lines.
If they don’t have pressure on the ball, the back line drops. They are content to gift some space between the lines until the team can regain its shape. Its main purpose is to stop them being hit with the ball over the top.
As we looked at in England 1-2 Iceland, their shape is usually very good. It can, however, be broken by players that can beat their man and then move the ball quickly in-behind the back line. England showed this on the penalty won by Raheem Sterling and France had been paying attention. Les Bleus raced in to a two-goal lead with quick early balls in-behind before the Iceland back line could drop.
Olivier Giroud opened the scoring. France’s quick one-touch passing allowed Blaise Matuidi to play the ball unopposed before the Iceland back line could drop.
No pressure was on Matuidi. So, he played it over the defence before they could react and drop deeper.
Seven minutes later and France were two up. The goal came from a corner, but the set piece was won by Paul Pogba quickly looking for Antoine Griezmann’s run in-behind. Again, Iceland’s defence had been caught with no pressure on the ball.
Iceland defended the corner zonally, allowing Paul Pogba to get a running jump on them. No contest, 2-0.
France between the lines
France were not just looking to have a player beat his man, get free and send a ball beyond the Iceland back line before they could drop back. They were also looking to break Iceland’s shape by springing men between the lines. They did this in two ways.
Firstly, they were dropping off to invite Iceland forward. This stretched Iceland’s 4-4-2 shape out, creating pockets between their straight lines of defence, midfield and attack.
Secondly, Didier Deschamps had Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi set up in the space between Iceland’s midfielders and strikers. England had struggled to break Iceland’s shape with just Eric Dier in this space. Deschamps wanted two players in here to make playing the ball from the centre backs through the lines easier to then draw Iceland’s midfield up.
Drawing the midfield forward then created space between them and their back four. Antoine Griezmann, Dimitri Payet and Moussa Sissoko duly went to work in it.
France were soon three up. Progression of the ball found Griezmann in space between the Iceland lines of forwards and midfielders. He fed it to Dimitri Payet, who was in the next pocket up the field, behind the midfield and in front of the defence.
With two lines broken, time and space, Payet played it out to Bakary Sagna. Olivier Giroud cushioned down his cross towards Griezmann and Payet. The pair had been afforded space between the lines in the build-up and continued on towards the edge of the penalty area untracked.
Griezmann laid the ball off in to Payet’s path and he drilled a low shot in to the corner, 3-0.
France were cruising and a combination of the two tactics paid off for a fourth. A quick ball forward exposed the high centre backs, as well as getting men between the lines to advance it with one touch.
Paul Pogba received the ball in the space between the Icelandic forwards and midfield. Oliver Giroud had drifted in to the next pocket up the field behind the midfield. He flicked Pogba’s direct forward pass beyond the back four for Griezmann to run on to.
Iceland were again caught out by the speed of ball and player movement. Their high line unable to drop quickly enough once they realised their strikers had lost pressure on the ball.
Iceland expose France’s weakness to crosses
Down 4-0 at the interval, Iceland were heading home, but they made a spirited go of it second half.
They had only given France trouble from long throws at this point. Jon Bodvarsson touching Kolbeinn Sigthorsson’s flick-on over the bar was the closest they had come to troubling Hugo Lloris.
Didier Deschamps had done his best to stop their long throws. Without the suspended N’Golo Kante, he brought in Moussa Sissoko to have extra height to counteract them. With Koscielny, Umtiti, Pogba, Matuidi and Sissoko, Deschamps had plenty of aerial power to deal with Iceland’s two flick-on targets.
It wasn’t until Iceland started to cross the ball and flood France’s centre backs that they got some joy. Iceland have tried to outnumber and get in the lanes between the opposition’s centre backs all tournament. It paid off again in this game, twice.
They pulled one back, which started from a long throw that was partially cleared. Gylfi Sigurdsson curled a low cross back in that was glanced home by Kolbeinn Sigthorsson. Iceland had five men running the lanes between France’s back four.
They grabbed a second as they overloaded the centre backs once more. Birkir Bjarnason stole in to make it France 5-2 Iceland with a cushioned header in to the corner.
France 5-2 Iceland overall
Didier Deschamps planned perfectly for this game.
His side dropped off to draw Iceland out, content to play a waiting game. In possession, France were looking to navigate any pressure and hit a runner beyond the high Iceland back line before it could react to their press being broken.
Stationing Pogba and Matuidi in the area between Iceland’s strikers and midfielders allowed France to play through the lines. Iceland were opened up from within and the resulting space exploited. A classic example of how to break a team playing a deep lying 4-4-2 counter attacking system.
France were impressive. Their weakness on crosses still remains with two goals conceded from them. Germany will be scheming.
Final score: France 5-2 Iceland.