Iceland – France: Penalty Gives World Champions Deserved Victory In Close Game (0-1)
As we could have expected, France dominated possession against Iceland, despite problems to create danger against a very defensive team. Eventually a penalty scored by Giroud unlocked the game and sealed the score for France.
Tactical analysis and match report by Simon Piotr.
Iceland holds a very solid record on their ground, in the last twenty games played in Reykjavik, they only lost three times, which speaks volumes about the quality of their defensive organization and the capacity to optimize the few professional players they have in the country.
From a tactical point of view, Iceland almost always use a flat 4-4-2 system, involving everyone defensively, which can be very tough to play against. Coincidentally, these are exactly the kind of games World Champions France do not like.
With the absence of Pogba, Mbappé and Kanté, Deschamps was missing three of his four most important players (the fourth being Griezmann). oalkeeper and captain Lloris went missing as well. Still, Deschamps kept the flexible 4-4-2 set-up France has been using most of the time since the Euro 2016 with Griezmann and Giroud upfront. The midfield was composed of Matuidi, Tolisso, Sissoko and Coman, whereas the defensive line was composed of Digne, Lenglet, Varane and Pavard. Only five players in the starting eleven were starters in the World Cup final.
A spectacularly unproductive first half
The first half was not very pleasant to watch, to say the least. Iceland wanted a game scenario where they would defend pretty deep and wait for opportunities on the transition to create danger. France had around 75% possession but – as has been common under Deschamps – did not have a real plan in possession, meaning France can easily be in trouble against low blocks when Pogba goes missing or that Griezmann does not have a great night.
The structure was asymmetrical, with Matuidi tucking in, Digne pushing high while Coman was very wide of the right. Lenglet was the most involved center-back on the ball but with a limited Matuidi as left offensive midfielder between the lines in this tactical context, it was difficult to progress forward.
French asymmetrical 4-4-2 setup facing the very narrow Icelandic 4-4-2 defense.
The lack of quality in the middle third of the pitch made it very difficult for Griezmann to be found in interesting positions. He almost did not touch the ball at all during the first thirty minutes. With Tolisso, Matuidi and Sissoko in charge of progressing the ball against a defensive wall, the level of inspiration and creativity was pretty low, especially considering the freedom Deschamps gives to his player, you will rarely see France play positional play to break low blocks one atom after the other.
Not only were France too rigid and not very comfortable in creating danger, they also lacked pace and tempo. The game therefore quickly turned into a parody of two 4-4-2 formations facing each other with no ideas.
The French tried to play wide to find some space, with many long balls from Tolisso to Digne or Coman, but even the technical execution was not always successful. It is worth mentioning that the size of the pitch in Reykjavik is pretty smallish on the width (but legal according to UEFA’s standards), which makes it easier for the hosts to switch from one wing to the other defensively.
At the end of the first half, France started to play better and feel more confident in the final third. The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. Five out of the seven attempts they had before half-time were after the 38th minute.
Griezmann started feeling more comfortable again and enjoyed the freedom he usually has as most important player in the offensive animation, in charge of doing pretty much everything and breaking the rigidity of the 4-4-2 system.
Long balls, penalty and transitions
Deschamps probably had a good chat with his players, because coming from the locker room for the second half, France played with a much higher tempo and brought nuances to their plan. They were now playing longer balls aiming at Giroud. In true target man fashion, he would bring his teammates forward or directly found Griezmann, something actually very reminiscent of what France were doing during the summer of 2016, with Giroud and Griezmann forward (before Mbappé came into the mix).
This strategy paid dividends, as after an hour of play, Varane found Giroud, who headed the ball back to Griezmann inside the box, who then got fouled. Griezmann is usually the penalty taker of the team but with two misses during the last international break (he hurt himself on the foul too), Giroud put it in the back of the net.
Goaaaaal…. Giroud pic.twitter.com/4OCxfIBCvO
— Kresacosta (@Kristia68745636) October 11, 2019
This goal unlocked the game and despite a very small possession share, Iceland offered more space to the French. The team coached by the Swede Erik Hamrén had only two shots after the penalty though, whereas France had ten attempts.
France also developed some more interesting play down the left wing, most of the time ending with those dangerous low cutbacks. Matuidi hit the post on such a situation in minute 77, but Griezmann or Giroud had opportunities as well coming from the left.
France should have scored another goal, had they been more efficient. After replacing Giroud (who is out of competition with Chelsea) for the last fifteen minutes, Ben Yedder had two big chances, one in particular being a one-versus-one against the goalkeeper after a lovely combination with Griezmann.
Despite a very dull first half, France managed to wake up in the second half and deserved their win despite scoring the only goal through a penalty. Nothing unforgettable collectively, but the result and the absence of danger around his box should make the conservative coach that Deschamps is very happy.
As for Iceland, losing by the smallest margin against a football giant would have been considered a decent performance in the past, but the team now likes to be an intimidating outsider. After reaching the quarter-finals of the Euro and qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, Iceland might just qualify again if they can end third of the group H behind the logic favorites and go to play-offs. To be continued.
Plots will be added to the article as soon as possible.