Spain 2 France 0: Lessons learned as Alonso sends La Roja through
What did we learn from Spain's comprehensive 2-0 victory over France in the Euro 2012 quarter-finals on Saturday night?
Alonso caps 100th appearance with rare goal
Xabi Alonso earned his first cap for Spain in 2003, while captain of Real Sociedad and playing a key part in their La Liga title challenge. The Basque side eventually finished two points behind winners Real Madrid, amassing their highest ever points tally in the process. In the following years, Alonso spent four successful seasons at Liverpool, during which time he established himself as key member of Spain’s squad. Under Luis Aragones, the 30-year-old captained his country in their final group game at Euro 2008, but was used largely as a substitute in the latter stages. Two years later, and with Vicente Del Bosque at the helm, Alonso played in every game as Spain won the World Cup, with the midfielder having moved to Real Madrid in 2009. It was fitting, as a mainstay of Spain’s most successful era, that Alonso capped his 100th appearance with a rare brace on Saturday. Andres Iniesta’s delightful ball released Jordi Alba on the left, with the full-back streaking past Mathieu Debuchy and sending a cross into Hugo Lloris’ area. Del Bosque again decided to start without a recognised striker, and of his six midfielders, perhaps the unlikeliest candidate to be in a position to score was Alonso, but the Madrid star directed a powerful header back across a scrambling Lloris to hand the holders an early lead. The former Liverpool midfielder capped a special night with a penalty in the 87th minute, taking his tally to 14, and underlining his growing influence on Spain’s success.
Blanc needs his Zidane and Vieira
Patrick Vieira and Zinedine Zidane were two of the greatest midfielders in both French and European history, and Laurent Blanc was a team-mate of both as Les Bleus secured the World Cup in 1998 and were crowned champions two years later at Euro 2000. Blanc’s current crop certainly have potential – highlighted by their impressive 23-game unbeaten run prior to the loss to Sweden – but his squad is noticeably lacking big personalities that can carve out victories amid adversity. Franck Ribery was billed as France’s talisman but the Bayern Munich playmaker was swamped by Spain’s six-man midfield and struggled to make impact on the quarter-final. Madrid striker Benzema was facing a number of familiar faces from La Liga – and he had scored 21 goals in the Spanish league last season – and while the 23-year-old completed a couple of probing passes, the former Lyon star was largely anonymous. He lacked support, with Ribery failing to link-up effectively with the French forward. Blanc opted to leave out Manchester City’s Samir Nasri – a risk that appeared to backfire with his side struggling to break down Spain’s rearguard, and the French manager paid the price for not taking a gamble with a semi-final place at stake.
Spain make strikers redundant
Del Bosque decided to persevere with his striker-less formation for the third time at Euro 2012 on Saturday, and while it was far from a mesmerising display, it proved effective – again. Without Fernando Torres in attack, Spain resorted to holding onto possession on the edge of Lloris’ area, waiting for an opportune moment to thread a delicious pass to a colleague. While Alonso’s first goal was born from a scintillating piece of wing play, the second was the result of a series of patient passes before substitute Pedro Rodriguez raced onto an incisive ball and was dumped to the turf by a clumsy challenge from France veteran Anthony Reveillere, resulting in a penalty – Spain’s latest centurion dispatched the spot-kick emphatically. Next up for the holders is Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo. The Spain manager will be unlikely to alter his tactics and will hope to nullify their Iberian neighbours’ threat on the counter-attack. Should Spain reach successive European championship finals, it will be remarkable feat as four of their five games en route to the showpiece will have been without a forward man.
Spain end miserable run against France
Surprisingly, defending champions Spain approached the quarter-final with a miserable record against France. The holders had never beaten their neighbours in a competitive fixture. Previous encounters held plenty of unhappy memories for them, not least European championship defeats in the 1984 final and then the 2000 quarter-finals – Blanc was part of the France team that went on to win the tournament. Furthermore, Les Bleus were the last team to knock Spain out of a major tournament – the last-16 of the World Cup in 2006. Spain, who have broken many records over the past four years of glory, ended this miserable run with a comprehensive 2-0 victory over France. The sudden decline of France has been countered by the rise to prominence of Spain. Del Bosque’s side are aiming to retain their title – a feat not completed by the France side which won in Belgium and the Netherlands in 2000. And who would count against Del Bosque after their eighth clean sheet in knockout games at major tournaments?