I’ll be keeping this short and simple.
Spain win by two goals to nil against France in today’s Euro 2012 quarter final match-up to book their place in the semi-final against Portugal.
Xabi Alonso scored both of Spain’s goals – a 19th minute headed effort and an extra-time penalty.
Spain made one change – Cesc Fabregas coming in for Fernando Torres – and lined up in a fluid 4-6-0 striker-less formation. Laurent Blanc, on the other hand, made 4 changes to his squad from their defeat to Sweden, with Laurent Koscielny replacing the injured Phillipe Mexes, and Florent Malouda, Anthony Revelliere and Yohann Cabaye coming in for Alou Diarra, Samir Nasri and Hatem ben Arfa. France lined up in defensive 4-3-2-1 formation.
It was yet another dominant performance by Spain and they were in complete control throughout the game – aside from a brief spell when the French looked really threatening immediately after the the half-time interval. Spain never looked in any trouble right from the off and should’ve had a penalty in the 6th minute as Fabregas was clipped in the box by Clichy, however the ref waved play on.
Gael Clichy was generally poor in the first half, and was caught out of position way too many times. When he was in position, his marking and his defending in general, was poor. Spain’s opener came in the 19th minute as Jordi Alba made an excellent run down the left flank – easily beating both Reveilliere and Debuchy – and crossed the ball to the right where an unmarked Xabi Alonso headed the ball into the goal. Poor marking, and Alonso was allowed to roam into France’s penalty box, with both Clichy or Malouda failing to track his run.
From then on, Spain looked to knock the ball around, kept possession pretty well while searching for the occasional opening. France, understandably, did not look threatening at all, couldn’t get anywhere neat the ball whenever Spain were in possession, and were quickly dispossessed when they did get some possession, thanks to some relentless Spanish pressing.
France most potent attacking threat was Franck Ribery, who made a couple of good runs down their left wing in the first 45 minutes. But it all came to nothing.
The French kept defending deep, with solid 2 banks of 4, and this was a feature of their game throughout the 90 minutes. What was particularly interesting is that the French defended extremely narrow – not allowing Spain to play through the center. This also allowed Spain to exploit to space out on the wings, which is what they looked to do. However they were restricted to making quick passes from out-wide into central positions, since they didn’t have a target-man to cross to inside the box.
Clichy had a torrid time, and it was clear that Spain were targeting him as most of their attacks would come down the right-wing. Spain stretched play pretty well – something that they don’t do very often as most of their build-up play and attacks come through the middle. David Silva, in particular, gave Clichy a nightmare of a time. And Spain’s fullbacks continuously made some superb overlapping runs to provide width to their attack.
Apart from one good save from a Yohann Cabaye freekick, Iker Casillas had generally little to do throughout the first half, and we went into halftime with the scores at 1-0 to Spain. Things, however, changed after the restart, at least for a short while.
The French looked much more composed on the ball, kept possession and seemed threatening after the restart, taking the game to the opposition. They pressed well, won the ball and their transitions from defense to attack were a whole lot better. There was a marked improvement in Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema performances, and the French players were much better when in possession. Another interesting aspect was that the French seemed to commit more players in attack and brought men forward. However they failed to take any advantage of this brief period of dominance.
The players on the pitch seemed to tire after the hour mark, and the game remained quite scrappy till the end, with both teams failing to keep possession in the attacking third for very long.
Vicente del Bosque brought on Pedro to exploit the space on the wings in the second half, as well as Fernando Torres as a target-man. But Spain kept possession without really a lot of attacking intent. Spain’s second goal came after substitute Pedro made a good run inside the box (something that he did continuously since coming on) and was felled by Reveillere. Alonso scored from the penalty spot, ending up with a brace on his 100th appearance for Spain.
A scrappy game (as the possession stats would tell you), with very little interesting tactically or otherwise. Spain kept the ball like they usually do, tiki-taka’d it around like they do but lacked cutting edge. They will now face Portugal and an in-form Cristiano Ronaldo in the first Euro 2012 semi-final.
France, well they tried to park the bus, but were generally poor especially when in possession – barring a brief spell of dominance early in the second half.
Possession statistics: Spain 60% – 40% France.
Xabi Alonso: for the two goals. But more importantly, for being an immense presence in the heart of the Spanish midfield, as his stats would tell you: he attempted 96 passes during the game – the highest of any player on the pitch, even more than Xavi – and ended up with a 92% pass accuracy. He was also has 4 successful tackles to his name, once again, the highest of any player on the field. A superb all-round performance!
Notable mention 1: Jordi Alba: excellent marauding runs down the wing. Great link-up play and a good chipped pass for Spain’s opener.
Notable mention 2: Laurent Koscielny: France’s best player, hands down, Koscielny was an immense presence at the back: 3 successful tackles, 5 interceptions, 5 clearances, 3 shots blocked, and 3 offsides won – the most of any French player on the pitch! He also attempted 46 passes and ended up with a 91% accuracy, the joint highest in his team. Outstanding stuff from the Arsenal man!
Fail(s) of the Match
Florent Malouda: how exactly does this guy get to walk into the team? Yet another rubbish performance from the Chelsea winger. Provided nothing going forward, and has to be held partially responsible for allowing Alonso to make a free run at France’s box for their first goal. It’s extremely hard to justify his inclusion over someone like Samir Nasri.
Gael Clichy: At fault for the first goal, almost conceded a penalty in the first 5 minutes, was caught up-field and out-of-position too many times, leaving pockets of space for the Spanish to exploit. Had a better, slightly-improved second half, but David Silva continued to get the better of him throughout the game.
Pardon my French, but you can go…
If his pre-match spat with Alou Diarra wasn’t enough, Samir Nasri surely stirred up some controversy by being classy as ever in front of the media, post game, telling a section of French journalists to ”go f*** yourself”.
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