France are in the quarterfinals of EURO 2012 after finishing second in their group. They now face the mighty task of beating the current World and European champions, Spain.
Les Bleus weren’t convincing so far. A 1-1 draw with England, followed by a 2-0 win against Ukraine, and losing the final fixture 2-0 to an already eliminated Sweden have raised doubts about Laurent Blanc’s France side.
Many pundits are already predicting, who Spain will face in the semi-finals but they could be proved wrong. France can very well defeat Spain, thus preventing them from winning successive EURO titles.
France won’t get bullied
We’ve come to know about Spain’s possession based football in recent years; keeping the ball, tiring the opposition and then pouncing forward for the kill. However, with France, this may not be the case because France more or less, employ the same tactics as Spain.
Under Blanc, France play a short passing, attacking game while remaining organized and dominant in possession. In their group stage games so far, France have kept 65%, 50% and 58% possession – 65% notably against a strong England side. This is an average of 57.6% possession per game.
Of course, comparing this to Spain’s figures – 66%, 78% and 62% - one can only laugh. Spain has an average of 68.6% possession per game, but it’s highly unlikely that they would retain so much possession in the quarterfinal clash against France. Italy were defensive, Ireland just couldn’t handle the opposition, and Croatia were resigned to playing on the counter. Spain will have to work harder than usual against France as Del Bosque points out:
“We know that they are on a similar level to us and it will be a difficult game. They have made some important changes and have great players. France were the most complicated opponents for us, the strongest in Group D. They have the ingredients of a strong team. Technically they are strong and very organised. I don’t expect them to play defensively but their turn to defend will certainly come. Let’s see what happens. The French do not suffer from any inferiority complex and neither will we.”
While France won’t be bullied by Spain with possession play as much as Ireland or Croatia, the reigning World champions will in all likelihood, have more of the ball and France must make optimum use of their possession, especially on the counter-attack.
“I’m sure we can beat Spain. They are a great team with great players. The key will be taking the ball from them, which obviously will not be easy, because they are best in the world to keep it, so the key is to stay calm and take advantage of the spaces they leave for us.” – France right-back, Mathieu Debuchy.
No other team in EURO 2012 have used their left wing to attack as much as France did. Frank Ribery will be relishing the prospect of going up against Alvaro Arbeloa, who certainly can be exploited with pace and trickery – both of which Ribery possess.
Laurent Blanc will be hoping that Ribery, along with the likes of Jeremy Menez, Samir Nasri and Hatem Ben Arfa (depending on who plays on the right flank) are clinical on the counter like they were in the build-up to Menez’s goal against Ukraine.
Striker, Karim Benzema, who has admitted getting frustrated due to his lack of goals, will be hoping to open his account against Spain. His La Liga experience should come handy for Karim to exploit Spain’s defence.
There is a psychological factor that might come into play before the game – Spain have never beaten France in a competitive game. Six games have been played between the two sides with France winning five of them and drawing once.
Of course, this is a different Spanish side from the last one that faced the old France, but many expected the Spain side of 2006 to thump France in the 2006 World Cup round of 16 as well with Spanish newspaper, Marca, even going to the extent of announcing “We [Spain] are going to retire Zidane.” France went on to win 3-1 after going a goal behind.
“I retain an image of the 2006 World Cup. We under-estimated the French as they were getting on. It is a very Spanish trait not to pay attention to one’s rivals.” – Spain coach, Vicente Del Bosque.
France will be hoping that the Spaniards won’t pay attention again as they look for an upset.
France vs Spain in the quarterfinals will be an entertaining and open fixture, that is much more evenly matched than people will expect – a treat for football fans. Here’s is an interesting fact:
France were beaten by Holland 3-2 in the final group match of Euro 2000 (much like how France were beaten by Sweden), and they went on to win the championship. Who did they face in the quarterfinals? Spain.