France's dynamic duo spell danger for Germany
Germany must be wary of dynamic duo Griezmann and Payet, who are revelling in their creative freedom
REPORTING FROM PARIS
(Olivier Giroud 12, 59, Paul Pogba 19, Dimitri Payet 43, Antoine Griezmann 45)
(Kolbeinn Sigthorsson 56, Birkir Bjarnason 84)
Antoine Griezmann and Dimitri Payet keep laughing on a football field, as if they can't quite believe they're getting away with this.
Against Iceland yesterday morning (Singapore time), they exuded joy - pure, uncomplicated joy.
They are lost in the moment, never wanting it to end. And their mood is infectious in the French camp.
Olivier Giroud no longer resembles a bearded extra from a Seventies sitcom, he's coming close to being that prolific striker that Arsene Wenger keeps gushing over.
And Paul Pogba is slowly convincing his once bitten, twice shy support group to believe a little of the hype after all.
But the sudden giddiness begins with the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of a tournament that has often taken itself a tad too seriously.
Even the gloomy, unseasonal weather appears to be conspiring against Paris, but Payet and Griezmann are dragging their fragile, tentative country into the light and the semi-finals in Marseille.
Germany may not fear France, but they'll be apprehensive of the dynamic duo.
Living up to those famous three qualities championed by a nation, the French midfielders are revelling in their creative freedom.
There's even an equal division of labour among the frat bros.
Payet scampered inside from his left flank like a lottery winner waving his ticket in the air. Only it's his birth certificate instead. The 29-year-old can't believe his good fortune.
Unheard of in England before the start of last season and ignored in France, Payet was a maverick in search of self-belief when he joined West Ham. So he came. He saw. And he killed them at Upton Park.
Now he slays Vikings. The little man with the Mohawk took out the Icelandic hordes, proving that panache really is mightier than the sword.
At one point in the second half, he spun away from his marker, pirouetting as if on ice skates for no other reason than he could. He wanted to. There were other ways to beat his opponent, but Payet likes to take the scenic route.
And he does it with a smile.
So does Griezmann. After a long and punishing campaign at Atletico Madrid, the France forward ridiculed the lazy, hackneyed defence for England's dire showing against Iceland.
He danced around the bearded brutes. They might be giants, but the diminutive artist went on a bear hunt.
Like the popular nursery song, he faced the Icelandic wall of hardened muscle and went over it, under it and through it.
A goal and two assists, a corner, a lovely lay-off and a delightful, impudent chip over the Icelandic goalkeeper, neatly showcased Griezmann's creative range.
He played in the hole behind Giroud to accommodate the loss of N'Golo Kante and the subsequent midfield shuffle. Now Didier Deschamps must be tempted to keep him there for the semi-final.
Together, Payet and Griezmann present a unique threat to Germany, one that they haven't faced in a tournament dominated by defensive trios and counter-surges.
The boys in blue like to fool around and improvise, like a couple of musicians jamming in the studio in search of that killer riff.
For the most part, Euro 2016 will probably be remembered as the tournament of the coach.
Antonio Conte drilled his Italian side until they played beyond their limited pedigree and were just a penalty away from the semi-finals.
Joachim Loew re-introduced Julian Draxler in the Round of 16 to counter-balance Germany's lopsided attack and then brought in a back three to negate the counter-attacking of Italy in the quarter-finals.
The tournament has largely been one for the tacticians, those professorial types keen to prove that they know their gegenpressing from their tiki taka.
But the cerebral analysis appeals to the head rather than the heart.
Germany's quarter-final against Italy offered tactical intrigue, but Payet and Griezmann got bums off seats inside the Stade de France yesterday morning. They are more interested in the wow factor than whiteboards.
Invention is the mother of all football tournaments and France's double act is game for anything.
Tactical discipline may achieve victory, but often needs a straitjacket.
The French rebels have rejected theirs in favour of freedom of expression, just in time for the biggest match of the tournament.
Vive la France? Vive les Payet et Griezmann.
What we are going to remember is that they are the world champions. We know what to expect, we know they have qualities. But we have become stronger tonight.
— Dimitri Payet, (scoring France’s third goal) on facing Germany in the semi-finals
We’ll have to give everything we’ve got (against Germany). It’ll be a semi-final at home, in front of so many supporters.
— Antoine Griezmann (scoring France’s fourth goal)
It’ll be another great fixture, but it won’t be a stroll in the park for them. We’re going to go all out for it. We’re playing in France, but everything is possible. We really have to go all out for it.
— France coach Didier Deschamps on the semi-final clash against Germany
FRENCH DOMINATING GOLDEN BOOT RACE
1. Antoine Griezmann (4 goals, 2 assists, 345 minutes played)
2. Olivier Giroud (3 goals, 2 assists, 300 minutes played)
3. Dimitri Payet (3 goals, 2 assists, 377 minutes played)
Deschamps: Griezmann in his groove
France coach Didier Deschamps believes he is reaping the benefits of his decision to "manage" Antoine Griezmann as Euro 2016 enters the home stretch.
Deschamps surprisingly left the Atletico Madrid striker, as well as Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba, out of Les Bleus' second Group A game against Albania after a lacklustre showing against Romania in the tournament opener.
Griezmann stepped off the bench in that game to score the first of two late goals for France, his first of four in the tournament as he goes from strength to strength to lead the Golden Boot standings ahead of the semi-finals.
France face Germany after a 5-2 win over Iceland yesterday morning (Singapore time) - Griezmann with a goal and two assists, while Olivier Giroud scored twice and Pogba and Dimitri Payet were also on target.
Deschamps (above) said: "If (Griezmann) remains the top scorer, it will be a good sign for us.
"He had a difficult start to the competition after the end of his season, he was a bit tired. I tried to manage him in the first three games.
"Now, he is fine. He is no longer fatigued. He is in his groove.
"He is a very effective player. Technically, he does some good things. We will need him in the semi-finals."
Olivier Giroud confounded the doubters with his double yesterday morning, but the striker is savouring the victory rather than his Man-of-the-Match display against Iceland.
Having sometimes frustrated fans and been caught in the crossfire over the decision to overlook Karim Benzema, the divisive 29-year-old was jeered by some French supporters leading up the tournament.
However, Giroud made a mockery of such abuse by cupping his ears when celebrating his second goal.
He said: "I don't know if it's my best performance (for France). I have played some other good games as well but, in a major tournament, that is perhaps my best performance, if you will.
"I felt really good physically right from the start of the game."
Deschamps is considering whether to again tailor his line-up to the opposition - he matched up Iceland's 4-4-2 formation, using Moussa Sissoko in a wide midfield role, just like how Germany coach Joachim Loew opted to emulate Italy's back three for their quarter-final.
"I will take the time to reflect on it," Deschamps said. "I made this choice because of the opponents.
"I am not the only one to change. Joachim Loew changed against Italy, moving to a system with three central defenders, which worked well.
"The Germany team have good technical quality, right from the goalkeeper. In general, it is they who have possession of the ball.
"We must adapt. Not just to their strengths, but to what we are capable of doing.
"Up to now, apart from Switzerland, we have played against opponents who were there to defend. The more we can force Germany to defend, the better." - PA Sport.