France smashed Iceland 5-2, ending the best storyline of Euro 2016 in emphatic fashion. The hosts were supposed to win. They were the vastly more talented team. But the same was said of England.
Tiny Iceland captured the hearts of the world throughout June, capitalizing on fantastic defensive organization, lightning quick counterattacks, and some of the world's best fans to push through to their first ever European Championship quarterfinal. Before coming up against England, most narratives were composed of the normal platitudes reserved for teams likely preparing to pack up and head home, but at the end of 90 minutes, it was crestfallen Three Lions fans gathering their belongings to make the short trip back across the Chunnel.
It was a different story from the opening whistle against France. Antoine Griezmann, Olivier Giroud and co. stormed out of the gates with a clear plan, and immediately showed Iceland what a team full of well-drilled world class professionals can, and should do against a lesser opponent. Iceland showed their mettle against a disorganized, unprepared England, who felt their very presence deserved victory, but they were outclassed against a France side who worked their socks off to ensure their win.
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Antonio Conte's Italy were the shining beacon of the power of tactical planning and teamwork, and Iceland's heroics this tournament were no less a testament to that ideal. Both France and England have struggled with this concept, with England the poorest example of how to properly address the issue. Roy Hodgson brought a very talented team to Euro 2016, filled with players on the brink of real stardom, most of them coming off stellar club seasons. Against these massive English Premier League stars, Iceland defended impeccably, counterattacked to devastating effect, and even dominated possession at times. To the delight of the footballing world, the Norsemen exploited his woeful tactical planning, taking advantage of preposterously poor defending, and generally disregarding any narrative that dictated it was their turn to go home the proud losers.
France have had their issues this tournament, but Didier Deschamps has responded in a much more proactive fashion in order to ensure his side is prepared for success in the best way possible. After struggling to start the tournament, Deschamps has responded by making tactical tweaks from then on. Eventually, he found places for his best players in Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba, and Dimitri Payet so they could be at their best.
France has struggled in the back this tournament, and another poor performance from left back Patrice Evra will be a worry for Deschamps, but Samuel Umtiti performed well in place of the suspended Adil Rami. And even against Iceland his continued tweaks found him another answer as Moussa Sissoko found a home on the right wing. His endless energy and intelligent running not only creates space in the attacking third for Pogba, Payet and Griezmann, but his defensive work rate down the right is a valuable addition to France's midfield.
They're not at their best, and Iceland's two goals are a clear reminder of that, but France have a clear system and plan in place; one that works and their players are familiar with. England didn't have that, and that's why Iceland's incredible fairytale story has a brand new British chapter. But France knew what they were doing and between that and their talent, that was enough. Sometimes it's the simplest of things that make the difference, like the plan France had, and the one England didn't.
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