In the Rotherham heat, France resisted a valiant Icelandic effort to maintain their undefeated start to Euro 2022. An early strike from Melvine Malard was cancelled out by an injury-time penalty from Dagný Brynjarsdóttir in a highly competitive encounter that saw Iceland fall just short of advancing to the quarter-finals.
Despite his team’s exit, Thorsteinn Halldórsson cut a stoic figure in his analysis of the game. “I’m proud of my team,” he said. “I can’t say more.” It was a performance worthy of high praise for a side who left the tournament unbeaten after three draws.
It was last-chance saloon for Iceland as they walked out in front of their vocal travelling fans. Some 2,000 of them had made the journey over to England for this summer’s tournament, their familiar clap and singing a welcome addition among the crowd. Victory was their simplest method of progression, but a stern test awaited in the form of an electrifying French attack. Even with Corinne Diacre ringing the changes and the devastating loss of Marie-Antoinette Katoto to an ACL injury, France possessed more than enough quality to cause damage.
Within a minute, France illustrated exactly how dangerous they could be. Their penchant for starting fast continued as Malard turned home Clara Matéo’s pass, staking her claim for a starting spot in Katoto’s absence. Timed at 43 seconds, it was the fastest goal scored in the tournament so far.
Enduring the worst possible start forced Iceland to throw caution to the wind. It almost paid off as Sveindís Jónsdóttir clipped the crossbar but the search for an equaliser left their defence exposed. Only Sandra Sigurdardóttir in the Iceland goal and some impressive last-ditch sliding tackles kept the deficit to one.
Iceland’s confidence only increased, however, as the half continued and they began to exploit the space opened up by France. They should have levelled as the break loomed but Berglind Thorvaldsdóttir somehow managed to turn her shot over with the goal gaping.
An element of Iceland’s preparation would have focused on France’s habit of tapering off in the second period. Matters got heated as their forward players continued to put the pressure on with Pauline Peyraud-Magnin making an acrobatic save. With Wendie Renard and Karólína Vilhjálmsdóttir having strong words and the crowd getting on the French captain’s back, referee Jana Adamkova did well to calm tensions down.
France continued to pose a threat going forward. They were denied twice by the woodwork before a VAR review ruled a second Malard effort out for offside. Another VAR review followed to rule out a Grace Geyoro strike for handball.
Chaos ensued as the game entered six minutes of injury time. Another lengthy VAR review saw Adamkova point to the spot to hand Iceland a lifeline. Brynjarsdóttir stepped up to dispatch the penalty with force but time had run out for her side.
It was a goal that ended France’s winning streak of 16 games but Diacre was pragmatic in her analysis. “We wanted to get through as group winners and we were able to do that after two games,” she said. “This evening, I was able to give playing time to other players and that went very well … We have 22 players available for the quarter-finals and that was important.”
For Iceland, only a matter of inches stood between them and success. In the end, it was not to be as Belgium claimed the final quarter-final spot and the chance to take on Sweden in Leigh on Friday evening.