To most, Spain would appear favorites to book a semi-final clash against Portugal, but France have been impressive under the leadership of Blanc.
The clash between the Spanish and the French is the first quarter-final tie where the winner has been really hard to identify, and it could genuinely go either way.
To most, Spain would appear favourites to book a semi-final clash with neighbours Portugal, but France have been in impressive form under the leadership of Laurent Blanc.
Spain are the dominant force in world football at the moment, having won Euro 2008 and the World Cup in South Africa two years ago.
If they go on to lift the Euro 2012 trophy, they will become the first side to win successive European Championships, and the first to win three major tournaments on the bounce.
Not only is history challenging them, but so is their record against France – Spain have never beaten their French counterparts in competitive fixtures, losing to them in the quarter-finals of the 2006 World Cup.
Although Spain play a lovely brand of football typified by intricate passing and quick movement, it can be frustrating to see them within ten yards of goal and refusing to shoot.
And the fact they started their opening game against Italy without a natural striker highlights their desire to pass the ball, probe and patiently work an opening.
The talent of their midfielders is unquestionable, but their play would be aided by one of Fernando Torres or Fernando Llorente leading the line up front.
After drawing 1-1 with Italy, Cesc Fabregas cancelling out veteran Antonio di Natale’s opener, Spain went on to thrash Ireland 4-0, Torres netting twice in a strong display.
But the last group stage match saw them tested by a Croatian side who had to win to qualify at Spain’s expense. After Croatia missed some good opportunities, Jesus Navas came off the bench to book Spain’s place in the quarter-finals.
The match against Croatia highlighted some vulnerabilities which Blanc and his troops will be looking to exploit.
Blanc will know that his side will have far less possession than their opponents, but it is how they use their time on the ball that will count.
England managed to defeat the European and World Champions in November with a stubborn performance that saw them defend solidly, and score one of their few chances. France must do the same.
Blanc’s men were unbeaten in 21 matches before the tournament, and extended that with a 1-1 draw against England where they enjoyed a lot of possession, and a comfortable 2-0 win over Ukraine.
In their final match they were shocked by Sweden, who had already been knocked out, losing 2-0 and finishing second in the group behind England.
Blanc will be hoping that the defeat will be a wake-up call to his players as they seek to repeat their success of Euro 2000.
Although France will be without Philippe Mexès due to suspension, leaving Laurent Koscielny likely to start, Yohan Cabaye is back from a thigh injury, and Franck Ribéry and Samir Nasri are both available following minor knocks.
France’s tactic will surely be to soak up the Spanish pressure, and hit their opponents on the counter-attack, with the likes of Nasri, Ribéry and Karim Benzema serious goal threats.
It’s a tough one to call, but I feel that Spain’s cautiousness in trying to work an opening could cost them dear, and can see France scoring on the break.
It will be a battle, but under Blanc’s steely management, France are up to the challenge of defeating Vicente del Bosque’s champions.
Score prediction: France 2-1 Spain
Link to www.absoluteradio.co.uk/euro2012.
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