Iceland will aim to continue their dream run at Euro 2016 as they meet hosts France in the quarterfinal. As the two teams take on each other for a semi-final spot against Germany, here are the top five players from each team to watch out for:
For much of Halldorsson's career, goalkeeping was his side job, while his main income came from directing movies and music videos in Iceland. At Euro 2016 he has a starring role in the tournament's best feelgood story. Now a full-time pro, Halldorsson has been a reliable shot-stopper so far in the tournament, though he did concede a penalty against England when he brought down Raheem Sterling. If the ultimate underdogs can somehow go all the way in Euro 2016, Halldorsson could be a key character in the inevitable Hollywood dramatization.
Man of the match against England with a goal and a desperate last-ditch tackle to stop an equalizer, center-back Sigurdsson has seen his stock soar at Euro 2016. Tough in defense, he was more than able to answer England with some English-style physical play of his own. After the game, Sigurdsson was scathing about how England underestimated the Icelanders, saying "they thought it would be a walk in the park". Currently at Russian club FC Krasnodar, Iceland's co-coach Heimir Hallgrimsson predicts clubs across Europe will be rushing to buy Sigurdsson after the tournament.
While he may play in the English second tier with Cardiff City, the bearded, Viking-like Gunnarsson had the better of England's Premier League stars in midfield. A tough-tackling, robust presence, he also launches effective long throws which led to goals against Austria and England. The second most-capped player in the squad, Gunnarsson has electrified the Icelandic supporters. After the final whistle against England, he led the players and fans in a slow clap and chanting ritual with echoes of New Zealand's rugby haka.
Not to be confused with defensive hero Ragnar, Swansea City midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson reads the game well and plays a key role in Iceland's lightning-fast transitions from defense to attack. He was also Iceland's top scorer in qualifying with six goals, three of them scored against the Netherlands in upset wins. Sigurdsson takes Iceland's penalties and scored his only goal of Euro 2016 from the spot against Hungary in the group stage. By far the best known player in the team which started against England, his time at Swansea and Tottenham Hotspur gave him valuable knowledge of the opposition.
Scorer of the winning goal against England, with a little help from goalkeeper Joe Hart's slow reactions, Nantes striker Sigthorsson is capable of causing more upsets against top international teams in the years to come. He has scored 21 goals for his country, putting him five shy of the record at the age of just 26. That record is held by the 37-year-old former Champions League winner Eidur Gudjohnsen, who is still in the squad but is more of a leader in the dressing room than on the field, having made just one brief substitute appearance at Euro 2016.
France's tournament would have been even more of a challenge were it not for goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.
He was ready from the off, making an alert save to deny Romania forward Bogdan Stancu from point-blank range in the fourth minute of France's Euro 2016 opener.
In the group stage, the Tottenham goalkeeper kept clean sheets against Albania and Switzerland, and then put in a commanding performance against Ireland in the round of 16.
With Ireland 1-0 up and France under pressure, Lloris made a great save low to his left to keep out striker Daryl Murphy's curling shot. And early in the second half he clawed away James McLean's fizzing cross from the left before it reached Shane Long at the back post.
Young Lyon center half Samuel Umtiti has no international experience.
So, what a time to be making your France debut — in the quarterfinals of a European Championship.
With Adil Rami suspended, Umtiti is likely to be picked ahead of Manchester City's Eliaquim Mangala, who has looked out of form in training.
Umtiti is not as strong as either Mangala or Rami, but has pace and positional sense — and he is a better passer from the back.
One unanswered question. How will the 22-year-old Umtiti, who had a poor Champions League campaign this season, cope with the pressure?
France is still waiting for a commanding performance from its midfield star Paul Pogba.
Considered among the most sought after players in football, he is constantly linked with a move away from Juventus, where he has won four straight Italian titles.
But while the 22-year-old Pogba often lights up the Italian league, he rarely does the same for France. Aside from a dynamic first-half performance against Switzerland, where he twice hit the crossbar with shots from distance, he has been a disappointment at Euro 2016.
Backing up Pogba is teammate Patrice Evra, who says "he'll be there for us when we really need him."
French fans hope Evra's right.
Forward Antoine Griezmann has shaken off a lethargic start to become the spearhead of France's attack.
Griezmann looked sloppy in the opening game against Romania, squandering two golden chances to score.
Coach Didier Deschamps then dropped him for the next game against Albania.
If that was a wake-up call for the highly-rated Atletico Madrid forward, then it worked.
Griezmann came off the bench to break the deadlock against Albania with a sharp 90th-minute header, and then scored twice in quick succession against Ireland last weekend to overturn a 1-0 halftime deficit.
He seems to be timing it right for France.
Replacing Real Madrid star Karim Benzema as France's center forward was never going to be easy for Olivier Giroud.
But, Giroud is slowing winning fans over — though not for his goal scoring feats. Although Giroud headed France in front in the opening game against Romania, he has squandered golden chances since then.
He impressed in the round of 16 come-from-behind victory against Ireland. His excellent headed lay-off set up Griezmann for the winning goal. He also put Griezmann clean through late on with a cushioned pass only for Griezmann to miss a great chance for a hat trick.
The 29-year-old Giroud may never blossom into a lethal finisher, but he is unselfish and contributes through his astute link play.
With inputs from AP
Published Date: Jul 03, 2016 01:14 pm | Updated Date: Jul 03, 2016 01:14 pm