Sunday, June 24, 2012
France fire Blancs as Spanish sail on to the semis
Spain did not play fluently and a fine goal apart were never thrilling, but still won comfortably enough. The French had already lost their way in their abject 2-0 defeat to Sweden in Kiev on Tuesday, which was followed by the sort of changing-room row they hoped they had left behind in South Africa two years ago.
Watching tonight's meek surrender in the Shakhtar stadium in Donetsk, it is worth remembering Les Bleus were on a 23-game unbeaten run a week ago and were the last team to eliminate Spain from a competition - the 2006 World Cup. France suffered from nerves throughout Euro 2012, and bottled it tonight. Coach Laurent Blanc admitted in his pre-match press conference what most of us had been thinking - the best tactic is to keep Spain at bay for the first twenty minutes and then think about attacking. Unfortunately for France, the defensive mindset going into the game found itself outflanked by events on the pitch.
As it happened, Xabi Alonso, on his 100th appearance, scored in the 19th and his team never looked back, apart from the first ten minutes of the second half when the French pressed and had Spain backpedalling. Alonso added a penalty in injury time for the coup de grace.
France never truly threatened to score due to an incoherent forward line and lack of team spirit. While Frank Ribery twisted and turned dangerously on the left, Karim Benzema misfired at centre-forward and attacking substitutes Olivier Giroud, Jeremy Menez and Samir Nasri all failed to make an impression.
Content to sit back and soak up Spanish attacks in the first half, they failed to put their opponents on the ropes after the break when they needed an equaliser. As the minutes ticked away, Blanc's men were reluctant to throw men forward at 0-1, presumably for fear of leaving gaps at the back.
Spain won 55% of possession, low by their standards, but registered five shots on target to France's one. Cesc Fabregas looked out of sorts as the 'false No.9', while substitute Fernando Torres had another limp display, offside more than dangerous.
Winning while playing badly is a sign of great teams of course, but all Spain knows La Roja must up their game on Wednesday to beat their Iberian neighbours Portugal and on-fire Cristiano Ronaldo, the player of the tournament so far.
Tonight: England v Italy
Weds: SF Spain v Portugal
Thurs: SF Germany v England/Italy
(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile