Holders Spain strolled into the
Euro 2012 semi-finals after two goals from Xabi Alonso on his
100th appearance secured a 2-0 victory over a listless France
team on Saturday.
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani will surely give Spain
more to think about than a limp France did in a match which,
despite being between two of the powerhouses of European football,
produced little incident or excitement.
Spain again played without a recognised striker with
Fernando Torres left on the bench, and their patient 'Tiki Taka'
football at times became little more than negative possession
designed to cajole the French into opening up.
At the other end, Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas had just
one attempt on goal to save as the world champions completed
their eighth successive knockout game in a major tournament
without conceding a goal.
"It is very difficult to create danger for them, they are so
tough to beat, you have to be very clinical when you only get
30-35 percent of the possession," said France coach Laurent
The win was the first for Spain in a competitive match
against France at the seventh attempt and avenged their loss in
the second round of the 2006 World Cup.
Alonso gave Spain the lead in the 19th minute with a
powerful header and made sure of the win with a stoppage-time
penalty. In between, the world champions were content to keep
the ball, often with little attacking purpose.
"We controlled the match well from start to finish and Iker
hardly had a save to make. The important thing now is that we
recuperate for the next game," said Spain coach Vicente del
France came into this tournament having apparently resolved
the internal disputes which wrecked their 2010 World Cup
campaign but they leave with just a solitary win over Ukraine
and they bowed out with a strange lack of determination.
Blanc set up his team in a defensive fashion, bolstering the
right flank to try to contain Andres Iniesta.
Right back Mathieu Debuchy was moved forward into midfield
ahead of full-back Anthony Reveillere and the defensive-minded
Florent Malouda started in midfield in preference to Samir Nasri
and Alou Diarra.
It was a logical, if negative, approach for Blanc to take
but it was only going to work if the French succeeded in
frustrating Spain for a long stretch.
Instead, however, Spain got ahead in the 19th minute and
exactly from the side which Blanc had tried to lock down.
"We had analysed the Spanish line-up well because they had
two very strong players on the left but what is the most
frustrating thing is that we conceded the goal from that side,"
Iniesta fed the overlapping Jordi Alba who got to the line
and put in a deep cross which Alonso met with a powerful
France needed to find an attacking response but they went in
at half-time having managed only a curling free-kick from Yohan
Cabaye which Casillas pushed around the post.
After the break, Franck Ribery did well to create space for
a rare cross which Debuchy headed over but with no sign of
change to the rather weary pattern of the game, Blanc brought on
Nasri and Jeremy Menez just after the hour.
The expected creativity and urgency never really arrived,
however, and a spiritless exit for the French was confirmed when
in stoppage time Spain substitute Pedro was tripped by
Reveillere and Alonso confidently converted the spot-kick.
Spain now have an all-Iberian clash to look forward to back
in Donetsk where the fans can at least expect Portugal's
aggressive counter-attacking style to provide some moments to
raise them from their seats.
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