Spain overcome futile French resistance
23 Jun, Euro 2012 (quarter-final): Spain 2, France 0 (Donetsk)
Utter tedium. I’m sorry but what should have been a fascinating quarter-final turned into a totally predictable hum-drum contest. Spain controlled the whole game, as widely expected, France offered no great threat, as not widely expected, and it was Spain who moved on, virtually unchallenged, to a semi-final against bitter rivals Portugal in Donetsk on Wednesday.
At least that game might evoke a bit of Iberian passion, a touch of tit-for-tat aggression, some regional hostility. Perhaps Portugal will ruffle the feathers of the world and European champions and not simply lie down, as France did, and accept that they are an inferior side and not worthy of being on the same pitch.
France were pitiful. And many of you who wish that Laurent Blanc, their coach, will be the next manager of Tottenham Hotspur, replacing Harry Redknapp, as has been mooted, might want to think again. Imagine going to Manchester City, United, Arsenal or Chelsea and as good as admitting beforehand that you were up against superior opponents and had no chance.
That’s effectively what Blanc did in Donetsk. Spain again employed no recognised forward from the start – just using Cesc Fabregas in a roaming role up front – and invited France to have a go. But, no, they could not and did not. So Spain did what they wanted and, shortly before half time, the pass count was 324-165 in their favour. No surprise there.
Spain went in front, in the 19th minute, when Jordi Alba crossed from the left and Xabi Alonso, on his 100th appearance for his country, nodded home powerfully and cleverly. But did France respond vigorously, as you might hope, by accepting that they were 1-0 down and had nothing to lose? No. No way. They did little at all.
The whistles from the crowd midway through the second half were either directed at Spain, for their laboured and regimented passing and inexplicable lack of going for the kill, or at France for their pathetic attempts at trying to get back into it. Who knows? But the game petered out until Alonso scored his second goal from the penalty spot in the first minute of stoppage time, after Anthony Reveillere had clumsily brought down Pedro.
Vicente del Bosque, the Spain coach, defended his no-striker policy. “Playing with a true forward gives you more depth but we wanted to have more continuity, to dominate and to have possession of the ball in order to create chances,” he said. “I don’t think this is an unfair outcome because we were in control most of the time.
“We are talking about playing with three forwards – Iniesta, Fàbregas and David Silva – but we needed the help of the whole team. When we talk about Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets, they are not that defensive, they know how to attack and they are exceptional players. We were really strong on the left with Jordi and Iniesta – that’s where the first goal came from. Jordi Alba really played well and Iniesta always makes life very uncomfortable for the opposition defence.
“In the last phase of the game, France didn’t have the necessary strength but they still had Franck Ribéry and Karim Benzema. They did go forward and Olivier Giroud and Sami Nasri both came on as substitutes. They didn’t decide to defend all the time and we played well as a team. We were tired at the end but that’s normal. We’ll have to get as much rest as we can before Wednesday’s semi-final against Portugal.”
Blanc spoke about what might have been – too little, too late, really. “You’re never happy when you lose a game, you’re always disappointed,” he said. “When you go out of a European Championship, you’re even more disappointed. We had looked a lot at the Spanish side and we knew they were very good on the left, with Jordi Alba and Iniesta always doubling up. The most frustrating thing is that we conceded the first goal on that side. That’s what’s infuriating; they just had one cross and they scored.
“Just like they’re very good on the left, we wanted to attack them up our left because we’ve got Franck Ribéry there and Karim Benzema likes to drift left as well. Two or three times we lacked technique when we could have put them in some difficulty. Had we gone in 0-0 at the interval, although Spain had enjoyed most of the ball, we could have caused problems for them.
“Would it have been easier against Torres instead of Fàbregas? I don’t know. Perhaps it would have allowed our central defensive pairing to focus on one player. Maybe we could have played with three centre halves but we didn’t have time to work on this. We tried to stop them on the left, win the ball back and get it to our strikers quicker than we usually do.
“This Spanish side are great. We shouldn’t have any shame saying they’re a better side than us. I have regrets the way we conceded the opener. I think they were afraid of us, especially our forward line. My main regret is that we conceded so early in the game. We’re going to analyse everything in detail in the coming days.”
Blanc should consider decamping for Tottenham. Or will Spurs still want him? Because France were woeful. Portugal v Spain, now surely, will be a better duel than this dross.
Match rating (out of five): *