France too hot for Iceland in goal bonanza
So one fairy tale ends, but another quietly begins.
The men who came in from the cold return to Iceland, but the temperature is slowly rising in a chilly France.
Les Bleus not only reached the Euro 2016 semi-final on home soil this morning( July 4), they cantered. They strutted and swaggered, knocking in five goals in a bonkers contest that finally ended 5-2 but threatened a rugby score.
This was end-to-end football at its most ragged, an improving attack against a spent defence.
But there was enough, just, to suggest that the hosts, growing in stature and buoyed by a nation slowly getting on board the bandwagon, might test Germany's alleged supremacy.
The two now meet in a semi-final for the first time since the World Cups of 1982 and 1986. Those occasions were explosive. Hopefully, the old volatility will return.
Les Bleus boast the firepower and a suspect defence. They'll also bring the French nation as a choir. They have nothing to fear, except the German attack of course.
But that's a concern for another day. This morning, a shivering Stade de France danced in the drizzle, loving the Parisian parade.
Even before kick off, the French proved to be great sports, joining in the famous Icelandic Thunder Clap to make it a genuinely awe-inspiring ritual.
It was the last time the hosts obliged their guests.
France needed 12 minutes to kill off the romance of the underdog.
On the halfway line, Blaise Matuidi curved a computer game pass over Iceland's back four.
Galloping down the inside-left, Olivier Giroud allowed the exquisitely weighted ball to roll across his body before hammering a shot through Hannes Halldorsson's legs.
The goal was simple, direct and positive, the kind of football that entirely eluded England when they lost to the nation of 332,000 people (which needs to be mentioned at least once in every story about Iceland.)
But then, Les Bleus have hardly been swashbuckling musketeers and the early goal woke the crowd up as much as the French midfield.
The natives can be difficult to please, with the Icelandic minority hiding their numbers by raising the volume.
A second goal silenced them.
Paul Pogba, playing the conductor, initiated the lustiest rendition of La Marseillaise when he doubled the hosts' advantage in the 19th minute.
Pogba rising above the Icelandic defence to score a goal. PHOTO: AFP
Antoine Griezmann's low corner arrowed reached the far post, where Pogba unleashed the upper body strength that makes him one of world football's most enticing midfield targets.
He towered over Jon Dadi Bodvarsson to thump in an excellent header.
Pogba, like France, like their supporters, were finally performing uninhabited, fluid on the pitch and in fine voice across the stands.
It was the end of Iceland's magnificent resistance. France played keep ball as their opponents tried to keep the score respectable.
Dimitri Payet and Griezmann ensured that wouldn't happen.
The latter turned provider for the third, laying the ball off to Payet, who took a touch and slammed a low shot into the bottom corner in the 43rd minute.
Before the referee had a chance to blow for half-time, Griezmann was at it again.
France's Antoine Griezmann scores their fourth goal. PHOTO: REUTERS
With Iceland's static 4-4-2 fatally exposed, a long ball from Laurent Koscielny found its way to the unmarked Griezmann, who executed a lovely deft chip, the kind usually pulled off only in a sand bunker, to make it four by the break.
The French thoroughly enjoyed themselves, caressing the ball like a cheeky father dribbling around his toddlers, so much so in fact that they conceded a silly goal.
From nowhere, Kolbeinn Sigthorsson converted a low cross in the 56th minute and gave the visitors something to sing about, another Kodak moment for the bulging Euro 2016 memory bank.
It just added to the mad party atmosphere, particularly when Giroud nodded in his second from a free-kick minutes later.
The match then drifted towards a procession of standing ovations, with Giroud and Payet brought off in preparation for the Germans.
Iceland even added a second in the 84th minute, when Birkir Bjarnason nodded in a header. His goal was applauded on all sides of the stadium.
Everyone loves Iceland. Their limitations were finally exposed here, but they'll return home as national heroes.
And yes, in case you were still wondering, England really were that rubbish.