Euro 2012 Quarterfinals: Spian Vs France


For a short moment, Spain fell asleep in their final group stage match against Croatia. That was all the time that Luka Modric needed to create a great scoring chance, which wasn't converted. That was Spain's wake-up call. Other than that moment, they spent a long period of time sitting on the ball against Croatia, looking content to hold 80 percent possession in a 0-0 draw. In the 88th minute, Xavi and Andres Iniesta decided it was time to score.

Spain have been lauded as practitioners of the beautiful game the way it was meant to be played, but this is them in a nutshell. Barcelona is excellent at this kind of game, but when David Silva and Xabi Alonso are added to Barcelona's midfield, they become a team that simply doesn't lose the ball. Against literally anyone, but especially teams that are terrified of them, they can keep the ball forever, virtually uncontested.

France are better than Croatia and they have the talent to challenge Spain, but they gave no indication in their match against Sweden that they were in any state to do it. Laurent Blanc made the surprising decision to sit Jeremy Menez and Yohan Cabaye, arguably his most creative and dangerous players in France's previous match against Ukraine. Their absence showed and France was outplayed by a previously lifeless-looking Sweden team.

Cabaye will return on Saturday, but Menez probably won't. He'll be kept out of the game at the expense of Yann M'Vila and Alou Diarra, since Blanc will almost certainly play three true central midfielders against Spain. There's no magic formula for beating Spain, but Blanc will probably use the one that occasionally produces a decent result by flooding the midfield, trying to counter, and playing a deep defensive line. They're too good to play "anti-football" with absolutely no attacking ambitions, but they'll still have about a third of the possession and a low volume of shots.

Only one change to either team will be dictated by injury or suspension. Philippe Mexes is out for France and he'll be replaced in defense by Laurent Koscielny. This is almost certainly an upgrade for France, though Koscielny is prone to the occasional awful game. The same can be said for his defense partner, Adil Rami. At their best, they'll be good enough to make things tough for Spain, but their club sides Arsenal and Valencia only saw their best about half the time during the 2011/12 season. Even though Spain don't actually attack the goal as often as one would expect the world's best team to attack the goal, Koscielny and Rami will still need to be at their best when it does happen.

Spain spent most of their last match against Croatia keeping the ball without attacking the goal, then scoring with one great pass. The question is, can France provide any more opposition?

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