France captain Hugo Lloris vowed that the Euro 2016 hosts would not be caught out by surprise quarter-finalists Iceland in Sunday’s quarterfinal tie in Paris.
France are seeking to emulate their 1984 European Championship success on home soil, but goalkeeper Lloris is well aware of the dangers posed by Iceland after the North Atlantic islanders shocked England 2-1 in the last 16.
“It’s not by chance Iceland have made it through,” Lloris told a press conference Saturday.
“The extension (to 24 teams) which has allowed smaller countries to take part in the competition has shown that there are no longer any small sides in Europe.
“Iceland have had a great run since the beginning of the tournament. We have a lot of respect for Iceland, we watched their great performance against England and we won’t be surprised tomorrow.”
Gareth Bale’s Wales, who like Iceland are taking part at the Euros for the first time, sent shockwaves throughout France after stunning second-ranked Belgium 3-1 on Friday to reach their first ever major tournament semi-final.
And Lloris highlighted the fact that cohesive team performances have by and large trumped any individual brilliance at Euro 2016, with the continent’s smaller nations leaving their mark on the tournament.
“There have been surprises right from the outset of this tournament. We’re also aware it’s not simply enough to play good football and be a top side to make it into the last four,” he said.
“The best sides that have played the best football are not necessarily still in the competition. I think it’s now more of a team mindset that we have and the difference will ultimately be made by a team’s mental strength.”
Didier Deschamps will be forced to make at least two changes with defender Adil Rami and midfielder N’Golo Kante both ruled out through suspension at the Stade de France.
Samuel Umtiti, who is set to join Barcelona from Lyon, is expected to get the nod ahead of Eliaquim Mangala alongside Laurent Koscielny in defence for what would be his international debut.
Deschamps downplayed any fears about whether Umtiti was ready for such a big occasion.
“He has a lot of experience with Lyon in the Champions League and he was an Under-20 world champion with France,” Deschamps said.
“If he’s moving to the club where he’s supposed to be going that’s not by chance either. He has all the attributes required of a top-level defender.”
Deschamps joined Lloris in stressing that Iceland were not to be underestimated despite boasting a population of just 330,000.
“They’re here because they deserve to be and they have quality in their side. They haven’t stolen anything from anyone,” said Deschamps.
“The players in their team play in the top leagues, they’re not simply small-time players if you will.
“They’ve achieved great things before, and they deserved to beat England based on what they produced on the pitch.”
France relied on late goals to beat Romania and Albania in the group stage before Antoine Griezmann’s brace rescued Les Bleus against the Republic of Ireland in the last round.
Bacary Sagna has warned France could face an early exit unless they address their worrying tendency to start matches slowly, and Lloris admitted it was an area the hosts needed to improve.
“Not everything is perfect in our performances, we’re still lacking a touch of consistency such as intensity and aggressiveness at the start of our matches,” he said, a point echoed by Deschamps.
“We’ve managed to get through this far, but there might be a time when it will no longer be enough,” the coach said.
“Maybe we’re not playing well enough, but there’s always the opposition at the start of games, who in the first half-hour perhaps put in a bit extra effort.
“What is important is starting well and finishing well and we’ve always had a good reaction.”