Despite all the hoopla, the much-hyped third quarterfinal between Spain and France turned out to be a damp squib even as Xabi Alonzo celebrated his 100th cap for his country in style. He struck twice for Spain to overcome France in the first time ever in an international competition. Even then, the game was far from the firefight it promised to be and it was more of a midfield scramble that lasted 90 minutes. And France were the casualties of their own strategies that went awry. Laurent Blanc tried to beat the Spanish at their own game forgetting the French game, which ultimately confused his players while they could not find their footing or the ball amidst the flurry of Spanish passes. The French defence was full of holes which made their midfield their defence, leaving the strikes with a drought of supplies. In the end, Iniesta made good of the holes which helped Alonzo score the first and later the same defensive mistake caught him to score his second from the spot. A good Spain playing their usual game downed their neighbors 2 – 0.
France started without Nasri, Mexes and Cabaye, while M’Vila started. And Spain came in again with that strange “strikerless” formation, Torres sitting out. France had two defenders in the right wing, Anthony Réveillère and Mathieu Debuchy, two right backs, maybe to counter Iniesta. But that did not work out as the defence fell apart as soon as it was established. Reveillere who usually plays mid back frequently drifted off to that position. Iniesta took advantage of that in the 19th minute when he passed the ball to Jordi Alba, who got past Debuchy and loped the ball to Alonso who headed it home. The remaining of the game was played off in the midfield with Yohan Cabaye and Benzema hardly ever being visible. Spain kept the ball rolling among themselves in short, neat passes as if they were playing a practice match which sent the Frenchmen scrambling all over the place. French possession in the first half was just 35% and whatever the French passed usually ended up at Spanish feet. Iker Cassilas was a jobless man throughout the game as France got only 4 chances out of which only one was on target – a Cabaye freekick which Cassilas blocked. The passing game continued which some might describe as ‘boring’, with almost no attacking football to be seen. The French were confounded as no passes or opportunities came their way, and in the end it seemed that they had already given up. Then Xabi made it 2 – 0 through a penalty kick in the last minute which came as a result of Reveillere foolishly felling Pedro in the area. The French were released from their predicament.
The match was probably the most unexciting in the series so far, only made so by the French. They were outpossessed, outpassed, outdefended and totally outplayed by the Spanish. By the time Samir Nasri, Olivier Giroud and Jérémy Ménez had entered the fray it was too late for France to regroup but they did improve and had a shot at goal. Del Bosque also pulled out Fabregas and put in Torres, maybe smelling another goal, but nothing happened. In the ends, Spain were through to face Portugal in the first Semi Finals, and Les Bleus were going home. La Roja had given Les Bleus the Blues. But all this were apart from the dressing room scruffs that had apparently broken out between some of the French players, which probably did influence the Blanc’s team selection too. Everything went wrong for the French, starting from infighting, team selection and strategies. A quarterfinal against the reigning champions is decidedly not the moment to try out new strategies instead of concentrating on the job at hand. Anyway, the semi final between the Iberian rivals will sure a treat to watch!