Iceland are playing in their first major international football tournament. Quirkily, they have two coaches, the experienced Swede Lars Lagerback and the Icelander Heimir Halllgrimsson.
The approach to team management may be off-beat but it has produced several on-song performances.
In their first match in Group F, Iceland came from behind to draw 1-1 with Portugal. It was a gritty defensive display which left Portugal skipper Cristiano Ronaldo berating their refusal to let him score a handful of goals. The former world player of the year called the Icelanders small-minded. They replied that he was a good footballer but not a very nice human being.
A draw with Hungary and a victory over Austria ensued before they plundered England.
“Iceland have had a great run since the beginning of the tournament,” said France skipper Hugo Lloris. “We have a lot of respect for Iceland, we watched their great performance against England and we won’t be surprised. It’s not by chance that Iceland have made it through. “
France needed late goals to overcome Romania and Albania in the group stage, while Antoine Griezmann rescued them with a second-half brace in their last 16 game against Ireland.
With Adil Rami suspended, France coach Didier Deschamps is likely to hand 22-year-old Barcelona-bound Samuel Umtiti his international debut alongside Laurent Koscielny in defence.
N’Golo Kanté is also serving a one-match ban. Kingsley Coman – who replaced him for the second-half against Ireland, may start the match in his stead. Deschamps can also call on the rangy muscularity of Moussa Sissoko or the cultured playmaking of Yohan Cabaye.
“What is special about Iceland is the team unity and the team spirit and the character of the players,” said Hallgrimsson, who is also a dentist in Iceland. “I guess the French would say the same but we believe that we are better in those areas. The team knows its identity and plays according to that identity.”
Iceland’s recently elected president Gudni Johannesson will be among the team’s supporters at the stadium. Before the election, he quipped that victory in the presidential poll could get him one of the best seats in the house for Iceland’s football matches at the tournament. But the 48-year-old history professor told CNN on the eve of the game. “I will be in the stands with the fans and I will wear my Iceland shirt.”