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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 2 July 2016
SPORT 26 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 2 JULY 2016 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM Nordic heroes take on French stars in battle for semi-final spot France v Iceland - Monday 4 July, 5.00 am (AEST), Stade de France, Saint Denis Iceland’s Kolbeinn Sigthorsson celebrates after scoring his side’s second goal against England. PHOTO: AAP VIA AP/CLAUDE PARIS. Unlike France, Iceland can go into this match without the pressure of a nation's expectations on its shoulders. If the Icemen goeth out of the tournament at this stage, it will still be regarded by their fans as a wonderful success for this smallest of nations, competing at the Euros for the first time in its history. But for the host nation France, a quarter-final loss against Iceland would be considered even more calamitous than England's 2-1 loss to Iceland in the Round of 16 match. Iceland surprised everyone in that game, and not so much in the way they defended. Six clean sheets in the qualifiers gave everyone fair warning that this team was well organised defensively. What surprised everyone about the England game was how, after going behind to an early penalty, Iceland struck back and posed a threat going forward, while remaining very solid at the back against the English attack. France also had to come from behind in its Round of 16 game to win 2-1 against the Republic of Ireland. After a sluggish first half in which it trailed the Irish, coach Didier Deschamps’ half-time talk roused his troops and they played with greater intensity after the break. Deschamps deployed forward Antoine Griezmann in his more preferred central role in the second half and Greizmann responded with a brace, taking his tournament tally to three goals, equal top scorer. Without the luxury of a star forward to rely on, Iceland's six tournament goals have come from six different players, including two attackers, two midfielders and two defenders. Against England, it showed a strong physical presence, consistently winning second balls and possession in 50-50 tackles against more illustrious opponents. Joint coaches Lars Lagerback and Heimir Hallgrimsson are expected to stick with the 4-4- 2 formation which has served the team well up to this stage. The one possible weakness is the lack of depth in the squad, with the coaches so far being able to rely on the same starting 11 in each of its matches. With a number of players on yellow cards going into this match, there is no real possibility of rotating the squad to prevent suspensions from taking their toll. Iceland coach Hallgrimsson believes that quarter-final opponent France, which has scored many of its goals in the second half, will maintain the pressure right to the end. "That is why they are scoring at the end of games. 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." Italy stands in the way of German juggernaut Germany v Italy - Sunday 3 July, 5.00 am (AEST), Stade de Bordeaux, Bordeaux Giorgio Chiellini (L) and Graziano Pelle of Italy. PHOTO: AAP VIA EPA/ABEDIN TAHERKENAREH. Will the ghosts of failed tournaments past come back to haunt the current world champion Germany at Euro 2016 ? An impressive run to the quarter-finals in which it is the only remaining team yet to concede a goal has led to another confrontation with a nation it has yet to beat in tournament football - Italy. Two of Europe's most successful football nations meet in a quarter-final showdown in Bordeaux tomorrow morning, in a match that could well produce the tournament winner, given the impressive displays both have produced so far. Opponents have scored just one goal in all the eight matches against these two nations at Euro 2016, and that was the Republic of Ireland's 1-nil win against arguably a second string Azzuri team in the group stage. Two world-class keepers in Neuer and Buffon lead strong defences. In Italy's case, it's a defence built around four Juventus defenders: Buffon, Andrea Barzagli, Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini. Coach Conte has stated publicly that he wanted to instil a club spirit in the squad, not just a selection of players representing the nation. Germany's defence, led by the central defensive pairing of Matts Hummels and Jerome Boateng, has also proven unrelenting. Hummels says that Germany defend differently from Italy. "Italy still defend rather deep and their defence is usually associated with the 'Catenaccio' style. We are defending with a very high line and try to keep the opposition far away from our goal with early counter-pressing." If the quality of opponents in the lead-up matches is a measure of the progress so far, then Italy has had the more difficult path, defeating both Belgium and Spain to get to the quarter-finals. How it defeated Spain to exact revenge for the 2012 Euro finals defeat will no doubt be studied closely by Joachim Low and his German team. Italy surprised Spain by taking the game to the Spanish, getting through an awful lot of work in the middle of the park (the Italians have clocked up more mileage on the pitch than any other team at the Euros) and generating a lot of movement up front with the two forwards, Eder and Pelle. "It's more than a month that we've been working tactically, technically, mentally and we've been trying to surprise everybody and I think we've succeeded to some extent,” Italy’s coach Antonio Conte said after the Round of 16 win over Spain. “Spain is one of the best teams in the world. They have players of an extremely high level. We now face the best side at the European Championships next Saturday. It's going to be very hard in all aspects. We've got to do well to recover and prepare for Germany the best way we can. We are without Thiago Motta (suspended) and that's a big blow, and also because De Rossi took a knock to his hip. But we know that in adversity we give that little bit more." Attacking midfielder Antonio Candreva, who missed the match against Spain, is still under an injury cloud. It remains to be seen whether coach Conte will keep his 3-5-2 formation against the Germans or whether he has another surprise in store. The Germans, on the other hand, have the luxury of taking an unchanged side into the quarterfinal against an opponent many regard as their biggest roadblock to winning the tournament. Coach Low says: "With all due respect, our opposition so far was not the benchmark. We attack early and force the opponent to play it long. That will not always be possible from now on. Now a different kind of quality awaits us."
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