France were once accused of showing a lack of respect for Iceland, their surprise opponents in Sunday’s quarterfinal. Iceland’s run to the last eight suggests that would be a fatal mistake for the hosts this time round.
Deschamps captained newly-crowned world champions France for their trip to Reykjavik to play Iceland in a Euro 2000 qualifier in September 1998.
Several of his team mates burst out laughing when the national anthems were played before kickoff, prompting many Icelanders to complain the players’ attitude was disrespectful.
The match ended 1-1, with France having to come back from a goal down to rescue a point.
Eighteen years on an Icelandic journalist brought up the incident at Deschamps’ news conference on Saturday.
“I remember yes but your interpretation is wrong,” Deschamps said.
“Never did we make fun of Iceland or their anthem. It’s just that the one who was supposed to sing the French anthem was different from what we were used to and that made players laugh but it was during our anthem, not yours.”
Video footage appears to confirm Deschamps’ version, showing players including goalkeeper Fabien Barthez and defender Bixente Lizarazu laughing while listening to a tuxedo-clad opera singer singing the Marseillaise in a rather comical manner.
Deschamps said the match had been a welcome reminder to the French that they were not invincible after their triumph on home soil in the 1998 World Cup.
“It brought us down to earth,” Deschamps said.
For Iceland, holding the world champions to a draw was a tremendous result that many in the rugged North Atlantic nation still remember.
The country’s president, Gudni Johannesson, was in the stands and described the result as an “unforgettable day” in an interview with French sports daily L’Equipe.
France went on to win Euro 2000, while Iceland had to wait 16 years before becoming the least-populous country to appear at the finals of a major tournament.
They have shown at Euro 2016, with thrilling victories over England and Austria and draws with Portugal and Hungary, that they need not fear any opponent.
They are dreaming of a fairytale end to their Euro campaign, not unlike that of Leicester City, who shocked the football world by winning the English Premier League last season.
“I would like it to end like Leicester,” said Iceland co-coach Heimir Hallgrimsson.
“They played to their strengths and we are trying to play to ours. There is the same spirit in both teams.”
France have defensive midfielder N’Golo Kante, who plays for Leicester, and centre back Adil Rami suspended but can at least rely on home advantage as they chase a semifinal berth against world champions Germany or Italy.