Spain still the team to beat
Spain ominously slipped into the semi-finals of Euro 2012 after beating a toothless-looking France 2-0 in Donetsk on Saturday night. Vicente del Bosque fielded a side with six midfielders and no recognised frontman, but with the talent such as that available in Spain’s engine room it is starting to look conceivable that they could retain their Euro crown without a striker.
Fittingly, on his 100th cap it was Xabi Alonso who grabbed the limelight with a goal in each half. Although his second strike came via a penalty at the death, the game always looked comfortable for the world champions and it was effectively over as contest on 19 minutes.
A great burst of pace from Jordi Alba, overlapping from left-back, gave him an opportunity to cross. Alonso arrived late at the far post completely unattended by any French defenders. The Valencia defender picked his man out superbly and Alonso powered a downward heard back across Hugo Lloris and into the far corner.
On a less than thrilling night in terms of the football, Les Bleus offered very little in response. Laurent Blanc’s side were particularly poor in the first-half. Like most sides they struggled to get the ball against the Spanish but when they were in possession they looked completely out of ideas. Yohan Cabaye forced Iker Casillas to save from a free-kick but Spain’s defence went largely untested in the first period.
Les Bleus improved slightly after the break and while they were not exactly laying siege to the Spanish goal in search of their equaliser, they were at least able to threaten occasionally. Mathieu Debuchy headed over the bar from Franck RIbery’s cross before Karim Benzema, who had worked a shooting opportunity for himself, blazed wildly into the crowd.
Although they attacked with a bit more zip, France still never had the holders really worried and despite the game being finely poised at 1-0 the end result seemed inevitable. Blanc’s side though continued their forlorn quest for a goal. Mostly they looked to exploit the flanks and attack with the talents of Ribery plus substitutes Jeremy Menez and Samir Nasri, players who would have too much ability for most sides. Not Spain.
It was not until the last minute of normal time though that France were finally put out of their misery. Spain substitute Pedro tricked his way into the penalty area where he was bundled over by a challenge from Anthony Reveillere that pointed to the fatigue and frustration in the French side that comes with chasing shadows.
Alonso coolly slotted home the spot kick to send Del Bosque’s side into the semi-final against neighbours Portugal. Perhaps Cristiano Ronaldo will represent more of a threat in that game against his La Liga counterparts but Spain will still be firm favourites to reach another final even playing with their new strike-less formation.
France on the other hand go out after disappointing badly. They looked dangerous in their opening two games but were lucky to come through their group after defeat against Sweden and now amid speculation about more in-fighting, they exit the tournament with a whimper.