Today's match was far from satisfying to say the least.
Spain had never beaten France before in major competition and it seemed like France had confidence that it would keep that streak alive. Overconfidence was the diagnosis if you ask me.
Laurent Blanc seemed to put the pieces of the French debacle of South Africa behind but only through qualifying. Euro 2012 was the first real test as to whether or not that turn for the better had really happened. Things went well at first tying England then beating the Ukrainians. Then Sweden came to town.
There was very little need for France to play well because of the tie-break, for they would advance if England also beat the Ukraine. Did Blanc hold back in the last group game or was the Swedes the first test they had ever faced that had both the talent and the hunger to win? In hindsight, it seemed the latter.
How a team handles adversity is the litmus test as to whether or not they are contenders or pretenders. The Miami Heat put all of their critics to bed by coming from one game down to winning four in a row. Portugal, after suffering a loss by shutout has turned an incredible performance in since losing to Germany. France, after it's loss to Sweden, went haywire. Was it disappointment or a sign that France had yet to show that they could win without Zidane? After watching the Spain shutout, it also seems the latter. To make matters worse, Coach Blanc found the need to sit Samir Nasri for 'tactical' reasons. I believe it was for disciplinary reasons, however.
On the other hand, del Bosque of Spain confirmed what we all thought: Fernando Torres is not fit enough to start against a quality opponent anymore. Sure he scored two goals on Ireland, but this game was against France. Cesc Fabregas got the start "up top" and Spain went back to what was essentially a 4-6-0 formation. Losing David Villa to injury is a huge blow for La Roja's quest to do what no national team has done before- win three major tournaments in a row. In spite of having young strikers on the bench fill that 'number 9' role, del Bosque obviously thought they were not ready.
Game on. Spain dominated, period. YWhat makes a team great is the ability to shut a team out. That has always been the case with Spain during the last six years. Spain passed the ball with the efficiency we all expect and take for granite with them. Their goal, however, was very un-Spanish like.
Spain is famous for short passes leading to goals in the middle of the field. This goal came from Jordi Alba who brought the ball to the left end-line and played an English cross to the opposite post where a wide open Xabi Alonso headed the ball in with textbook accuracy. As the ball flew across his goal, French goalie Hugo Lloris followed it and Xabi hit the ball where Lloris vacated. Perfect.
Now Spain, as usual, sat on that lead. Not by hunkering down, but by keeping the ball out of French possession. Defense through superior offense. That is the remarkable stamp Spain has branded on a world class level.
Halftime came and went. Blanc did not make any changes. Was that stubborn thinking or pragmatic that they were only down 1-0? I can't emphasize enough that by being down 1-0 with Spain is like being down 10-0 to an ordinary foe. Laurent later made subs and brought In Nasri but to no avail. Frustration kicked in and France gave Spain a penalty kick that Alonso gladly slotted home.
Spain will next play their Iberian peninsula rivals from Portugal in the semis while France goes home to consider what to do next to get les Blues where they once were.
Tomorrow, England battles Italy. Beware of the Italians. I have a gut feeling that they will win it all!
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