Venue: Donbass Arena, Donetsk, Ukraine Kick-Off: 19:45 BST Spain and France, two giants of European football, clash in Donetsk on Saturday with La Roja chasing their third consecutive title and Les Bleus hoping to end their reign at the top.
France will be without suspended centre-back Philippe Mexes after he picked up his second booking in the group stages, Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny is expected to deputise. Yohan Cabaye has recovered from a thigh injury that kept him out of the 2-0 defeat to Sweden on Tuesday. Franck Ribery and Samir Nasri are expected to resume their usual positions despite missing some of this week's training sessions. Nasri had a knee injury while Ribery had blisters but both are expected to play tonight. Spain have a full squad to choose from and are shaping up to name the same squad from their final group game.
The last goal Spain conceded in a knock-out stage was to France's Zinedine Zidane in 2006, the Real Madrid legend flicked the ball past Iker Casillas in the final seconds to secure a 3-1 win and passage to the World Cup Quarter-Finals. That night Spanish international football changed forever; embarrassed by the French head coach Luis Aragonés decided that to win games you needed the ball and to keep the ball you needed a system that could use possession as a method of attack. He employed a new version of tiki-taka play to dominate matches, evolving a similar total football approach to that used by Holland at the 1974 World Cup. His players shared the ball around the middle quickly, creating space as the opposition's defence would chase shadows allowing the pacey Spanish forwards to break away behind the back four. A year later they left Austria and Switzerland with the European Trophy tucked securely under their arms. Two years later, after an unbeaten qualifying campaign under new manager del Bosque, they beat Holland in the World Cup Final. Topping the group has landed the Spanish with a tough fixture against their close rivals, with the winner playing Portugal in the same stadium on 27 June. France have a very good record against Spain in tournament football, winning every knock-out match and drawing a couple of group stage fixtures. But that was before the Spanish revolution and now the dominance of Vicente del Bosque's men stems from their wealth of midfield talent. Despite this, Cesc Fabregas might have to start on the bench once again as Fernando Torres offers the team a striker's outlet. France, like Spain, also held both of the biggest titles in international football at one point. Led by talisman playmaker Zidane and young goal machine Thierry Henry they captured the 1998 World Cup, held on home soil, and the 2000 European Championship in Belgium and Holland. Once ranked highest in the world, Les Bleus have had a rocky few years and now sit 14th behind Chile and Denmark. At the 2010 World Cup the players protested against former boss Raymond Domenech, this time around Blanc seems to have everything under control. However, the French media is divided on whether their European hopes were shattered after defeat to Sweden landed them behind England in Group D. If France can overcome Spain tonight then confidence will once again be restored, and a Semi-Final against Portugal won't look half as tough. If they are trounced, Blanc might be on the lookout for a new job by tomorrow morning.
Spain have never beaten France in a major tournament before. The most recent tournament match was at the 2006 World Cup where France won 3-1 in the Round of 16. France have lost their last three friendly matches against Spain, the latest in 2010 when the Spanish won 2-0 thanks to goals from David Villa and Sergio Ramos. Spain have never won a Quarter-Final at any European Championship in normal time. Iker Casillas was the only goalkeeper to keep more than one clean sheet in the 2012 group stages. Xabi Alonso is set to win his 100th international cap. France have reached their fourth Quarter-Final in five European Championships (1996, 2000, 2004, 2012). France are the only team in the Quarter-Finals whose orthodox strikers haven't scored a goal at the 2012 finals.