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Analysis: Unambitious French allow Spain to cruise into semi-finals

Laurent Blanc’s side lacked the precision and penetration to test the reigning world champions in Donetsk tonight, writes Miguel Delaney.

The Spanish players celebrate Alonso's second goal.
The Spanish players celebrate Alonso's second goal.
Image: Tony Marshall/EMPICS Sport

IT WASN’T, IT must be said, riveting. It was, however, fairly ruthless and – ultimately – the most routine kind of Spanish victory… in every sense.

They got the first goal, they generally controlled possession but, as a result, they didn’t really show much urgency thereafter.

They didn’t really need to.

Apart from a few scares, France didn’t have the ambition or innovation to force an equaliser. And, much like so many other teams that play Spain, they looked a touch too exhausted from all the chasing when they eventually got the ball.

For all the running Spain made France do, though, they still haven’t really got near top gear themselves.

And that will be intimidating for the rest of the field.

In certain ways, Spain’s supremacy over the last four years can be compared to similar individuals and teams who absolutely singularly dominated their sport: Michael Schumacher, Roger Federer, Tiger Woods. It isn’t their fault that no other team is capable of matching them at either a technical or tactical level. Like no other side in the history of international football, their pressing, passing game means they force extreme defensive reactions in virtually every side they play.

Excitement in sport, after all, tends to come from either error or attacking play. Spain rarely make the former in terms of possession and rarely face the other in terms of opposition.

The regular result – as we’ve seen over the last four years and as we saw again tonight – is a usually sterile victory in which Spain were never really on trouble and the win was never really in doubt.

That sense of inevitability can lead to an occasionally dangerous level of complacency. Take, for example, the moment about half an hour into the game when a Spanish midfielder attempted a backheel in the centre at only 1-0. Franck Ribery raced away and looked like justifiably punishing them for such self-indulgence only for Spain’s backline to revive the usual level of their pressing.

Ultimately, France lacked sufficient precision and penetration – as well as, it must be said, energy – to take advantage of such an opportunity.

That, however, is what any team that is going to actually dethrone Spain will need: a truly piercing and penetrative forward line, a very strong defence, a perfect gameplan and, in all probability, a lot of luck.

Even then there is the danger that Spain will just step things up again.

Tonight, however, they didn’t need to.

As it happened: Spain v France, Euro 2012 quarter-final

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