France forced to experiment for tricky Iceland game
By Patrick Vignal
PARIS (Reuters) - France coach Didier Deschamps, who has kept tinkering with his squad since the start of the European Championship, will be forced to rejig once again when the hosts face Iceland for a place in the semi-finals.
With centre back Adil Rami and holding midfielder N'Golo Kante suspended, Deschamps, who has been praised for shrewd tactical moves in the tournament, is looking for the best options for Sunday's game at the Stade de France.
Rami may not be sorely missed after looking shaky at times, most notably when right back Bacary Sagna was shouted at him in a laboured 2-1 win over Ireland in the round of 16.
But Deschamps, who lost his most reliable central defender in Raphael Varane through injury in the build-up to the finals, will have to field an untested pair at the heart of his back line.
Samuel Umtiti seems to have the edge over Eliaquim Mangala and could win his first cap by teaming up with Laurent Koscielny.
"Everybody in the group is ready to do the job, no worries," veteran left back Patrice Evra said on Thursday when asked whether it would be a risk for Deschamps to go for Umtiti.
To replace Kante, who has established himself as one of France's most valuable players, Deschamps is expected to go for Yohan Cabaye. The Crystal Palace player was the first choice in that role at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, where France bowed out to eventual champions Germany in the quarter-finals.
Les Bleus have yet to deliver an entirely convincing performance in the tournament but Deschamps has made all the right decisions, notably against Ireland, when Antoine Griezmann turned the match with two goals after the France coach pushed him closer to Olivier Giroud up front for the second half.
When France laboured in a 4-2-3-1 formation in the first half of their group game against Albania, Deschamps was also quick to react, sending on Paul Pogba and reverting to a 4-3-3 formation which eventually wore down Albania's defence for a 2-0 win.
To play an Iceland team likely to shut shop at back, the France coach could be tempted to revert to a 4-2-3-1 system, in which case speedy winger Kingsley Coman, fit to play after receiving a knock on his ankle against Ireland, could be in the starting lineup.
France, who have often looked sluggish early in their games, will try to start strongly for a change against an Iceland side who proved just how dangerous they were by advancing with a shock 2-1 win over England.
"Our opening minutes are very bad, we must improve in that department because we're not going to get away with it every time," Griezmann said.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)