Olivier Giroud scored two goals to lead France to an emphatic 5-2 victory over Iceland on Sunday, sending the hosts into a European Championship semifinal against Germany.
It was a humbling but far from embarrassing exit for Iceland, which was playing in its first-ever international tournament and progressed much further than expected.
The French, though, have discovered their attacking ruthlessness just in time for their first semifinal in a decade on Thursday in Marseille.
“We have a lot of desire to get our own back for what happened at the World Cup,” Giroud said of the quarterfinal loss to eventual champion Germany two years ago.
Giroud, who was booed by the team’s fans in May, is proving to be an essential component of Les Bleus, netting the opener and heading in France’s fifth goal in the second half at the Stade de France.
And now on to the semifinals, which promise mouth-watering matchups as the last four teams battle for a berth in the July 10 final and a chance to succeed two-time winner Spain.
In Lyon on Wednesday, Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal takes on a Welsh team featuring his Real Madrid teammate Gareth Bale.
A day later in Marseille, world champion Germany, fresh from a nerve-rattling penalty shootout win against Italy, looks to add the European title against host France which is coming off a morale-boosting 5-2 win against Iceland.
Here are a few snapshots of the final four:
Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal is a regular feature in the latter stages of the European Championship, having reached the semifinals at four of the last five tournaments.
But the team has never triumphed overall, its best coming back in 2004 when as host it lost the final to Greece.
Ronaldo, who played in that match, will become the first player to appear in three European Championship semifinals.
His form at Euro 2016 has been inconsistent to say the least and he will likely have to improve if Portugal is going to win its first major competition.
Ronaldo has only truly shone in only one match, with a memorable pair of goals in the 3-3 draw with Hungary.
In his team’s penalty shootout win over Poland in the quarterfinal, Ronaldo was so out of touch that he swung and missed at two clear chances in front of goal. But he has the flair and talent to produce a touch of match-winning magic at any time and the semifinal might be the stage he has been waiting for.
Portugal defensive midfielder William Carvalho is suspended after picking up two yellow cards.
Alongside Iceland, Wales has been the surprise package of Euro 2016, reaching its first major semifinal.
Unlike Iceland, Chris Coleman’s team does boast an undisputed superstar in the form of the world’s most expensive player, Bale.
Though Bale’s three goals helped his team through the group stage, the team has shown itself to be anything but a one-man show. That depth could give Wales an edge against a rock-solid Portugal defense featuring another Madrid star, Pepe.
The Welsh will be missing a key midfielder in Aaron Ramsey after the Arsenal star drew his second yellow card of the tournament in the 3-1 quarterfinal defeat of Belgium.
Germany is looking to add a fourth European title, and its first in 20 years, to its world crown.
But first it will have to get past a France side that’s found its scoring touch in Marseille on Thursday. It will also have to overcome injuries and a suspension to reach the tournament decider next Sunday at the Stade de France in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis.
Joachim Loew’s team has been rock-solid in defense, conceding just one goal so far — Leonardo Bonucci’s 78th-minute equalizer from the penalty spot for Italy in the quarterfinal.
But Germany will be weakened against France; Mats Hummels is out through suspension and Mario Gomez has been ruled out for the rest of the tournament. Midfielders Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger are also injury worries.
One new concern may center on Germany’s penalty-taking, one of its historic strengths. Though it beat Italy on penalties in the quarterfinal, German players failed to convert three from the spot, more than they had ever done before in the history of penalty shootouts.
In Antoine Griezmann, France has Euro 2016’s top scorer. Dimitri Payet is not far behind.
Griezmann lifted his tournament tally to four as France ruthlessly dismantled Iceland at the Stade de France on Sunday night; Payet netted his third goal of the tournament with another clinical finish as France gave Iceland a nightmare ending to its fairytale Euro 2016.
Suddenly, the host’s confidence has shot up before it faces a German team whose ranks have been depleted in attack and defense.
France still appears vulnerable in defense, conceding twice against Iceland, although they came at a time when the result wasn’t in any doubt and French players may understandably have been focusing on the upcoming semifinal in Marseille.
France has no suspensions or injury worries and, seeking its third European title, will also get a boost from the fanatical fans at the Stade Velodrome, where Didier Deschamps starred as a player and coach.