Spain vs France – Quarter Final 3
Posted on June 22, 2012 by Joe Plewes
The Spanish have managed to get several monkeys off their backs in recent years, but let’s get straight to one that immediately comes up in terms of this game; they have never beaten France at a major tournament. Their latest clash saw a Zidane inspired France come out 3-1 winners in the last-sixteen of the 2006 World Cup, and now it’s time for the old Habsburg rivalry to be renewed in a rather different form in Donetsk. A tasty affair between the two neighbours would also promote some rather bad blood as the two face off in World Cup 2014 qualification this October.
But it’s all about Saturday.
Neither side was able to shift up the gears in their final group game. France’s 23-match unbeaten run was abruptly ended by an Ibrahimović-inspired Sweden, whilst the Spanish limped past a hungry Croatian side who narrowly missed out on qualification themselves. Yet del Bosque’s men are certainly favourites and Les Bleus will spend a lot of Saturday evening trying to wrestle the ball away from the likes of Xavi and Iniesta. The former eclipsed Ronald Koeman’s record of 127 completed passes in a European Championship match against the Irish, as Spain’s Barcelona and Real Madrid core eased them to a ridiculous 78% possession.
However, that clash against Ireland is hardly an accurate barometer of where Spain are. They made a meal of both Croatia and Italy, failing to put the latter away whilst only mustering a late breakaway goal against the former. The French will hope to limit the Spanish to the probing, non-penetrative football that Slaven Bilić’s men were able to restrict them to in Gdańsk.
In terms of team news, Laurent Blanc’s selection will have to change slightly as Philippe Mexès – who struggled with Toivonen and Ibrahimović on Tuesday night – acquired his second booking for a silly foul in Sweden’s half. Laurent Koscielny is likely to come in, which may be a blessing in disguise against a fluid Spanish frontline. That front three may or may not include Fernando Torres, as the Chelsea man provided glimpses against Croatia but did not build on his brace against the Irish.
One striker who will be in action is Karim Benzema – The Real Madrid number nine will be well aware of team-mates Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and Alvaro Arbeloa who appear in Spain’s defensive line. Likewise he is well acquainted with Barcelona rival Gerard Piqué, particularly as the French forward has netted the fastest goal in El Clásico in history.
Everything is therefore set for a terrific third quarter-final, and as France are much better with the ball than without it, they will still want to impose themselves on that slick Spanish midfield. Rumours of unrest in the French camp are once against afoot, but they certainly have the ability to pose a threat to a Spanish side not yet out of second gear.