France v Iceland - Sunday, 20:00
Amid all the outrage that greeted England’s humiliating second-round defeat to Iceland was one mitigating factor that almost everybody agreed on (but preferred not to dwell on): Iceland were outstanding. This wasn’t a team of no-hopers that reduced a bunch of Premier League superstars to quivering wrecks, they were a well-drilled operation that executed its game plan to perfection.
As such, they deserve to be taken seriously against France. If you’ve underestimated them once, don’t fall into the trap of underestimating them again, purely because the focus for the past week has been on what England do badly. What Iceland do well might only be a footnote but, in real terms, it accounts for 50 per cent of what unfolded in Nice.
It’s tempting to say the 8/1 about Lars Lagerback’s men to repeat the trick against Les Bleus is an insult. But then you consider what it usually takes to get a big host nation beaten before the semi-final of a major competition and you could argue it’s not big enough. Instead, take the 18/5 available on the draw - that’s where the lack of respect is.
Indeed, you could argue the similarities between France and England are plenty. Didier Deschamps might have a slightly better class of player to call upon but, like Roy Hodgson, he also suffers from the paradox of choice. Picking the right starting 11 and finding a system that plays to the strengths of the majority is easier said than done.
So far, results have been okay but performances haven’t nearly lived up to the billing of tournament favourites. France needed very late goals to beat Romania and Albania, they played out a meek goalless draw with Switzerland and their rest advantage when coming from behind to beat the Republic of Ireland was there for all to see.
However, while Deschamps has yet to find the perfect chemistry in a broad sense, he has nonetheless used his resources well. Players have been kept on their toes and responded accordingly, with those dropped or rested at various points coming back eager to prove a point, and his substitutions have generally turned the tide of games in France’s favour.
In this instance, though, it shouldn’t be stretching the boundaries of your imagination to envisage this game going beyond the 90 minutes before Iceland’s resistance is broken once and for all. As such, additional bets on France to win in extra time at 12/1 and France to win on penalties at 16/1 should also be considered.