Defending European Champions Spain advanced to the Semi-Finals after sweeping aside a lacklustre France team.
Xabi Alonso’s fourteenth and fifteenth international goals on his 100th cap helped Spain go against tradition and beat France in the knock-out stages of a major tournament.
The Real Madrid midfielder headed home the first goal after 19 minutes before scoring a late penalty following Anthony Reveillere’s clumsy challenge on Pedro Rodriguez.
The Spanish started with the same eleven that opened their campaign against Italy, preferring Cesc Fabregas to Fernando Torres.
After days of unsettled behaviour in the French camp, Laurent Blanc opted to make three changes to try and deal with the fluent Spanish. Mathieu Debuchy was moved to the right wing as Reveillere dropped in behind him at right back. Yohan Cabaye and Florent Malouda were started ahead of Samir Nasri (possible knee injury) and Alou Diarra. While Philippe Mexes was suspended, Laurent Koscielny deputised at the back.
In a very cagey game, Spain controlled a lot of the play and many of the chances fell their way. In the opening few minutes Fabregas played in Andres Iniesta but the Barcelona maestro couldn’t get past Adil Rami.
The ball was caught up in the middle a lot, with France playing a high back line and Spain struggling to get anything past them.
The French back four only lost their composure and concentration for a moment in the first half but it was all Spain needed to take the lead. Fullback Jordi Alba was released down the left wing against Debuchy and Reveillere, he bamboozled the first before beating the second lifted the ball into the box. Xabi Alonso, who wasn’t tracked back by Malouda at all, powered home the opening goal unmarked. Clichy picked up criticism after the match for not closing down Alonso, instead choosing to follow the movement of his goalkeeper when trying to stop the effort going in.
France barely looked bothered by the Spanish goal and certainly didn’t look likely to equalise before half time. Of the forward runs they made, only a few reached Karim Benzema and when they did he was met by Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos who controlled their entire final third.
After the break it didn’t seem like Blanc had done much to inspire his squad, and Benzema continued to draw a blank. After an hour of play that made it look as if a giant puddle was keeping the ball stuck to the centre of the field, Blanc brought on Nasri and Menez. However, the two players who had excelled against England in the group stage failed to make an impact.
Ribery brought about France’s only attempt on target when he drilled the ball at Casillas from deep on the left side of the box, while the goalkeeper was able to parry it away no one in a white shirt could capitalise on the rebound.
Then at the death, Spain confirmed their place in the last four with Alonso’s second. Substitute Pedro was released on goal but a poorly timed tackle from Reveillere took the forward’s legs instead of the ball and referee Nicola Rizzoli (Italy) had no choice but to point to the spot. Alonso sent Hugo Lloris the wrong way and drove his penalty into the bottom left corner, ending France’s tournament.
SPAIN: Casillas; Arbeloa, Pique, Ramos, Alba; Xavi, Busquets, Xabi Alonso; Silva (Pedro 65), Fabregas (Torres 67), Iniesta (Cazorla 84)
FRANCE: Lloris; Reveillere, Rami, Koscielny, Clichy; Debuchy (Menez 64), Cabaye, M’Vila (Giroud 79) , Malouda (Nasri 64), Ribery; Benzema
Possession: Spain (55) France (45)
On Target: Spain (5) France (1)
Fouls: Spain (6) France (12)
Goals: Spain (Xabi Alonso 19, 90)
Booked: Spain (Sergio Ramos) France (Cabaye, Menez)
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