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Euro 2012: Spain meet bête noir on road to history

There is no reason Spain should lose to France this evening, except history, writes Miguel Delaney

Image: Tony Marshall/EMPICS Sport

AS SPAIN SEEK to make history, it’s probably appropriate that, along the way, they will meet the very last bête noir from their past.

It was the French, after all, who last knocked them out of an international competition, in the 2006 World Cup quarter-finals. Not only that, France were also the last team to come so close to international football’s gold-standard achievement: three trophies in a row.

Along the way to the second of those trophies, of course, France also eliminated Spain. And that adds another dimension to this quarter-final: the Spanish have never beaten their neighbours in a competitive match.

In truth, though, it’s going to take something of a freak historical occurrence for the French to eliminate Spain here. The world champions are, quite simply, a far superior team.

In this tournament alone, they’ve hit over 2,000 passes… France have hit less than 600.

The repetition of such stats with Spain has been so routine as to become almost meaningless – but not in the case. It illustrates the technical gulf between the teams.

Because, as frustrating and overcomplicated as Spain have often made things in this tournament – and, indeed, over the past two years – that is still, to a certain extent, a signal of their superiority. As has been said here before, the manner in which Spain play has forced the most extreme defensive response in opposition teams ever seen in international football. Other sides know that, to beat them, you have to accept they will have the ball, congest the space and try and work from there.

As such, Spain’s adjustments have been direct responses to the defensive shifts of other teams in order to draw them out. It has inevitably all resulted in quite tense tactical battles.

And yet, despite all of that, Spain still scored more goals than anyone else in the group stage and conceded less.

What’s more, they’re hardly likely to need the same level of tactical innovation tonight.

Despite the quality of their attack, France have been inconsistent in this tournament. Their defence, meanwhile, has been atrocious. It’s very difficult not to see Spain’s ultra-fine passing causing huge problems for France’s suspect defence.

In response to that, the one genuine hope that France have is that Spain’s backline isn’t exactly the most assured itself, and may well struggle with the pace of Karim Benzema and Franck Robery.

In order to attempt that, though, France will have to get the ball. That is the problem every team faces against Spain. By the time you do, you’re often too exhausted to do anything with it from all the chasing.

All evidence, however, suggests that Spain’s chasing of history won’t be exhausted just yet.

Key battle: France’s centre-backs against Spain’s movement

Key question: is France’s pace on the break enough to get the first goal and putt he kind of pressure on Spain that may tip the game the way of Laurent Blanc’s side?

Recent scoring form: Spain 2.9 goals a game; France 1.2 goals a game

Recent defensive form: Spain 0.8 goals conceded a game; France 0.9 goals conceded a game

History lesson: The teams have met 30 times with Spain just about edging those games with 13 wins… none of them, however, came in competitive games. France beat Spain in the 2006 World Cup second round, the Euro 2000 quarter-final and, of course, the Euro 84 final.

Pointers

  • Spain have gone 17 competitive games without defeat
  • Since that defeat at the 2006 World Cup, Spain have only lost three of 46 competitive matches and 40 of them
  • France themselves were unbeaten in 23 matches before losing to Sweden

Prediction: Spain 2-0 France

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