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No room for egos as France play Iceland

01 July 2016, 21:02

Paris - With an unassuming group of players lighting up the European Championship, Iceland's dazzling advance has been infectious.

Even France, which has a recent history of rebellion, is talking up the importance of team unity as the two-time European champions prepare to face Iceland in Sunday's quarter-final.

"If someone wants to act like a star, we'll put them back in their place," France defender Patrice Evra said. "The team is the star."

France may be host of Euro 2016 and one of the favorites to win the tournament, but the limelight has been well and truly seized by the fearless Icelanders, who are unbeaten in four matches and dispatched England to reach the last eight.

Not bad for a team from the smallest nation to ever contest the European Championship.

Iceland hasn't scrapped through with ultra-defensive football. It has scored the same number of goals as France -six - and stands potentially 180 minutes from the final.

"A lot of people have underestimated the smaller nations," Evra said.

No longer, although France hasn't lost to Iceland in 11 previous meetings.

Iceland's ascent in international football can be traced through its past fixtures with France.

Now ranked 34 in the world by FIFA, Iceland was as low as 131st when it last faced France in a friendly four years ago. Even then there were flickers of optimism for the Nordic nation of 330,000. Iceland led 2-0 before France came from behind to win 3-2.

It was the same final score when Iceland was last at the Stade de France in 1999 for a European Championship qualifier against the then world champion.

However vast the rankings gulf has been, Iceland has been no pushover.

"Maybe we have players with less individual quality, if you compare our players with the French team, which has players in almost every position playing in the Champions League day in day out," Iceland joint-coach Heimir Hallgrimsson said.

"There's not many in the Iceland team that has played Champions League. In individual quality you can see that they are superior. So we have to be collective and work together to make up for it."

The pressure and expectation is all on France — and particularly striker Olivier Giroud, who hasn't found the net since the opening game against Romania when the host won 2-1.

"Because he hasn't scored for two games some people might criticize him and say, '(Antoine) Griezmann's scoring all the goals,'" Evra said.

Evra highlighted how Giroud's header set up Griezmann for his second — and match-winning — goal against Ireland in the round of 16.

"We need Olivier and we believe in him," Evra said.

France will have to cope without the suspended duo of center back Adil Rami and midfielder N'Golo Kante on Sunday. Yohan Cabaye is expected to take Kante's place as was the case when Didier Deschamps rested the Leicester player for the final group game against Switzerland.

Samuel Umtiti has been tipped to fill in for Rami and make his France debut on the biggest of stages. Set for a post-Euro 2016 move to Barcelona, Umtiti only made the France squad after two teammates pulled out injured.

- AP

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