France did enough to reach the quarter-finals of the Euros. But fair play towards the promising Icelandic “Turf Generation”

ROTHERHAM, England — Although France have a deeper footballing pedigree (and a population more than 174 times larger) than Iceland, the play between them in Monday’s 1-1 draw was surprisingly comparable.

The approach of both teams was similar and their failures lined up overnight at New York Stadium, but only France progress to the quarter-finals of Euro 2022.

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France started the tournament well, maybe even too well. In the first half of The Blues opening match of the group stage against Italy, their performance was sublime. There was also an element of luck for France, just as Italy’s defense was one of the worst the team had managed in recent memory, but the resounding memory was of how delightfully the winners controlled midfield and possessed the ball.

Yet that was when France’s truly breathless play ended, the team was jerky in the second half against Italy and so on in their second game against Belgium. Losing Marie-Antoinette Katoto to the Belgians was tough, but France had the depth to come out strong in Monday’s group stage final.

And that’s exactly what they did, taking the lead 43 seconds into the game against Iceland. But again, that’s when their best football seemed to fade, with their failure to finish the game past the Lyon striker. Melvine MalardFrance’s first goal gave the lead.

Iceland needed little time to readjust and quickly settled into the game and carried on as they had all July, moving the ball well and routing it to their dangerous women. Coming into the game with two draws out of two, the worry for Iceland was how easily they could have wrapped up two wins and progressed with a game to spare, but the goals had refused to come for them. In Rotherham, the same theme continued.

Displaying almost as many attacks as France, Iceland could only manage half of their opponents’ shots, their finishes frustratingly lacking, the ball sent just wide more than once. Even after receiving a stay of execution after France had two goals disallowed – one for a clear offside, another for a handball handball (and both goals canceled after a VAR intervention) – Iceland n couldn’t knock the ball down for them.

With a team polarized between young and old, it’s clear to see the strength of youth showing up for the tiny nation, as star defender Glódís Perla Viggósdóttir told ESPN last week: “I think we’re getting a new generation of young players who are very good on the ball. We call them the grass generation in Iceland because they didn’t have to play on the s- — They are very good with the ball and I think that gives us a lot.”

Ranked among the players to watch this summer, the 21-year-old Sveindis Jane Jonsdottir lived up to its modest billing, not quite at its best as Iceland didn’t quite reach its full potential. Still, it’s not just Jónsdóttir who plays club football in the German Frauen-Bundesliga for VfL Wolfsburg, but others like Karolina Lea Vilhjalmsdottir – who also play in Germany, for Wolfsburg rivals Bayern Munich – who was one of those to delight and show a sliver of the magic that lies beneath.

In Rotherham, 22 Agla Maria Albertsdottir nearly found the breakthrough for Iceland after the break after rounding the French defense and launching an effort at Pauline Peyraud-Magningoal by , making a good save from the goalkeeper. Albertsdóttir, another who left the Icelandic league in search of better football, the diaspora only benefited the national team, as Viggósdóttir said after the Italy draw.

“We have more players playing in the big European clubs, which means you play these games several times a year,” Viggósdóttir said. “Coming here is not a huge difference compared to when you play with your club. I think experience makes a very big difference. Now we have experienced players who are 20, not just those who are 30 year.”

Meanwhile, at the Academy Stadium in Manchester, group underdogs Belgium took an unexpected lead against an Italian side that were only getting worse by the minute. The goal (and eventual 1-0 win) was enough to change the group standings and leave Iceland needing two against France, Okkar of Stelpurnar being overtaken by the Red Flames.

Things quickly went from bad to worse for Iceland as Jónsdóttir was sent off with a leg injury moments after the team wasted another chance, this time from the captain. Sara Björk Gunnarsdottir who nodded just wide.

With that mentality on display as they continued to push, their efforts earned them a deep, deep penalty in stoppage time, with VAR again coming to their aid, clearing a foul that had not been openly cleared in real time. The kick converted by Dagný Brynjarsdóttir but any hope it gave Iceland was short-lived, the match ended before France even had time to restart.

It did, however, earn Iceland the unfortunate accolade of being the only team to be knocked out of the Euros without losing a match, as their hat-trick of draws wasn’t enough to see them qualify for the last eight.

“I’m very disappointed that we didn’t succeed but at the same time I’m extremely proud of the team,” Viggósdóttir said afterwards. “I think we played [a] very good match today, we are undefeated in the group. But unfortunately, that wasn’t enough.”

On the night, both teams were at fault for not taking their best chances, with France likely to feel aggrieved by repeated VAR intervention, but the murderous advantage they boasted against Italy n was not at the rendezvous. France coach Corinne Deacon hasn’t presented her strongest XI available, but with the responsibility of collective sense, she should be able to cut and change her squad without it altering her overall strength.

“Tonight I was able to give some game time to other players, and it went really well,” Deacon said. “We [also] don’t have any new injuries…and that’s important. We need to be more clinical. If we could take all our chances, it would be much better. But what matters is creating chances, if you don’t you can’t score.”

Just as team cohesion is essential for France, the same can be said for Iceland, as Viggósdóttir said before the match: “As players, we want the best for each other. We we don’t have individuals who only think of themselves. . We will do everything we can to support each other. If someone has been beaten, someone else is there to support them and I think it’s special and it’s a team I want to play for and that’s so important.

France’s success in England this summer is yet to be seen, but there is no evidence that things are looking good for Iceland and their Turf Generation.