Game in a sentence
Strong in defence, a shambles in attack, France offered up little to trouble clinical Spain in the most boring match of Euro 2012.
- For France, some significant tactical/personnel changes from the team that lost to Sweden in the final round of the group stages. Philippe Mexes was suspended, so Koscielny started alongside Rami in central defence. Laurent Blanc started something resembling a 4-3-2-1, which meant Debuchy moved up from right-back to right midfield with Yann M’Vila and Florent Malouda. Diarra sat on the bench, and Cabaye and Ribery played behind Benzema up front. The idea I’m sure was to allow France to stay compact in the midfield in defence whilst giving them options to break along either flank.
- Spain meanwhile were identical to their squad against Croatia, save for the reintroduction of Senor False 9, Cesc Fabregas. The reasoning behind Del Bosque’s decision to go without a centre forward became apparent fairly early; in possession, the entire midfield played in front of usually five or seven French defenders, waiting for an incisive run (often from David Silva).
- First, Euro 2012 is awful. If we’re talking about crowd atmosphere. Another funeral home stadium. Empty seats, no sound—just like a Canada friendly.
- France’s problem wasn’t in defence. Spain’s opening goal came from a “just one of those things” mistake from Debuchy covering for Reveillere out on the Spanish left, who fell and allowed Jordi Alba to send in a teasing cross which Xabi Alonso smashed past Lloris with his head in the 19th minute of play. Otherwise, France limited the Spanish threat in front of goal well. Arbeloa was caught offside on several occasions, trying to sneak past the midfield unit, Fabregas made precious few forward runs. As of the hour mark, Spain had ten shots, only two on target. Blanc’s changes worked for the most part.
- The issue for France was the poor link-up play in attack. They were woeful in attacking third passes. Benzema led the way in that category for France, but was unable to link up much with Ribery, or Cabaye. Despite some decent movement on the break, they were disjointed and unable to find a way past Spain, who, like Barca, quickly reduced space in front of the ball out of possession. It didn’t help that both Pique and Sergio Ramos in particular were imperious.
- If you’re here because you’re an Arsenal partisan and you want to know how Laurent Koscielny did, he did fine. Just fine.
- Ribery’s shirt was ripped for a time. So that happened.
- The match was boring simply because Spain has all the boring qualities of Barcelona (pressing, disciplined passes) without the exciting stuff (drilled, defence splitting runs; Messi). The French attack was poor, yes, but Blanc’s approach tipped the scales out of necessity to defence, which meant he couldn’t start with Samir Nasri or Jeremy Menez fuelling Benzema. Both players came on in the 65 minute mark for Debuchy and Malouda, precisely the moment when Del Bosque chucked on Torres, knowing France would press for the equalizer (in theory) leaving room in defence. This has been the Spanish MO for four years running.
- Instead, as the game died out, Reveillere conceded a penalty after body checking Pedro off the ball in the box. Xabi Alonso cooly put it past Lloris in the 90+1 minute. So that also happened…
- Still, you’d think with those players on, France would do something in the last twenty minutes. As it stood, the clock fizzled pathetically out in what was a disappointing third quarterfinal match. That will fuel more tabloidy headlines about dressing room coups and the like. A shame really; the talent in this French side is promising to say the least. Methinks Portugal will be more of an obstacle for Del Bosque’s team.
1. Xabi Alonso
2. Jordi Alba
3. Laurent Koscielny