Right mix helps France turn on style
After tweaking his formation and starting lineup at Euro 2016, France coach Didier Deschamps seems to have found the perfect formula at just the right time.Thanks to his shrewd tactics, his team turned on the style to outplay Iceland 5-2 on Sunday and advance to an appetising semi-final battle with Germany.
The fact that France, who had never got past the last eight at the finals since their 2000 triumph, managed to get almost everything right, has a lot to do with Deschamps' methods.
The grey-haired winning machine, who has kept tinkering with his squad since the start of the tournament, seems to have found what he was looking for.
Deschamps had experimented in earlier games, alternating between different systems and dropping key players, such as Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann, to the bench.
The coach's masterstroke came at halftime in the 2-1 win over Ireland in the last 16 when he pushed Dimitri Payet wider and Griezmann closer to Olivier Giroud up front, switching from a 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1 formation.
The result was that Griezmann scored twice to secure a place in the quarter-finals.
Former European Championship and World Cup-winning captain Deschamps opted for the same system against Iceland, surprising many by preferring the powerful Moussa Sissoko to the speedy Kingsley Coman on the right flank.
With a showdown against world champions Germany already in mind, Deschamps chose to make substitutions in the second half and his team looked more vulnerable, dropping their guard twice to allow Iceland to limit the damage.
France, who had struggled on their path to the last eight, needing late rallies and scoring all their six goals before Sunday's match in the second half, followed Deschamps' orders by taking the game to their surprise opponents straight away.
As a result, Iceland were left running after the ball and chasing down the score, finding themselves 2-0 down less than 20 minutes into the game.
France got plenty of goals, some simple and some beautiful. Payet and Griezmann again showed their class, each scoring fine goals.
Man-of-the-match Olivier Giroud also played his part. The old-fashioned but efficient centre forward scored twice and was involved in two other goals.
Pogba, too, rose to the occasion. The gifted but erratic midfielder, who had been criticised for below-par performances, crowned a convincing display with a superb headed goal.
France, who know all about losing to Germany in the semi-finals, having done it twice -- at the 1982 and 1986 World Cups -- are not yet where they want to be.
They have shown signs of weakness at the back, visible again on Sunday when Patrice Evra looked his age as they conceded a second goal, and the defence faces a stern test against Germany.
But at least by making Iceland look ordinary, and England even worse since the islanders made them appear clueless in their 2-1 last 16 loss, France finally look like the favourites many expected when the tournament started.