Spain Have Nothing to Fear From France

Spain head into their quarter-final tie with France as favourites to progress to the semi-final and second favourites to win the tournament, with Germany only shorter odds after they booked their place into the semi-final with a victory over Greece last night.

No nation who made it to the final eight picked up fewer points in the group stage than France. And arguably, France had an easier group than 6 of the other nations who reach the quarter-final. Russia, Netherlands and Denmark could have progressed from group D in place of France in my opinion.

Spain, not to dissimilar to their performances in Euro 2010 and the 2012 World Cup, have yet to play their best football but have picked up 7 points from a group that included both Italy and Croatia.

Vicente del Bosque’s decision to go with no striker in the first game was a strange decision. Spain ended up drawing that game 1-1 with Italy, whilst they went on to beat both the Republic of Ireland and Croatia when they started with Fernando Torres up top.

Goalkeeper Iker Casillas hasn’t conceded a goal in the knock out stages of a major international tournament since conceding 3 to France in the 2006 World Cup second round. Spain recorded a penalty shootout victory over Italy following a 0-0 draw and two 1-0 victories to win the trophy for a second time four years ago. Two years later, they lifted the World Cup by winning four consecutive games 1-0 in the knock out stages. Only Edwin van der Sar has kept more clean sheets than the Spanish number 1 in the history of this tournament.

The defence hasn’t been greatly defended. Spain have averaged 70% possession through 3 games, with the lowest being 66% against Italy. Iker Casillas has been forced into just 10 saves so far. Jordi Alba likes to get forward down the left, whilst Alvaro Arbeloa didn’t have the best of games against Italy. It’s hard to criticise the central defenders, Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique. One thing I would say about them is I have noticed a wide gap between them at times in this tournament which could haunt them if they don’t fix that in the final matches.

Spain’s midfield is what dominates games. Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso are winning and picking up the ball in front of their back four and looking quiet formidable in doing so. Then laying the ball off to the attacking side which has been a scary proposition for their opponents. Andres Iniesta is pulling the strings, along with fellow club team mate Xavi. David Silva is setting up the chances with his quick feet and agility moving him into promising positions. Cesc Fabregas, when he’s on the field is a goal threat from midfield as well as creating opportunities for his fellow countrymen.

Fernando Torres, does have two goals in this tournament. Both setup by the Ireland defence but both were well-executed. He’s a long way short of his form from 2008 when he scored the winner against Germany in the final. I’m not confident he’ll find the net against strong defences, unless he’s team mates are giving him tap ins. Spain don’t have many shots inside the 6 yard box.

For France, Hugo Lloris was credited with holding the scoreline down to 2 when they surprisingly lost to Sweden. Prior to that, he’d barely been forced into a save and conceded to England’s only shot on goal in their opening game.

In front of the Lyon goalkeeper, Adil Rami is a fine player. Most of the Spaniard’s will know him well from playing against him at Valencia. A physical player, he’ll be dealing with quick-footed and nimble players running towards the French goal. Alongside him, Philippe Mexes is suspended and Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny is expected to debutise. The centre back has shut out Lionel Messi once this season, so Fernando Torres should be a walk in the park for him. Well…

Gael Clichy and Mathieu Debuchy attack well from full-back and may see some space going forward with Spain not having any wide midfielders and with their full-backs aggressive in going forward. Defending they will have their work cut out as they’ll need to come inside to support the centre backs dealing with the likes of Silva and Iniesta. A potential problem for France.

In midfield, Alou Diarra has been a tackling machine and Yohan Cabaye is coming off a debut season in the English Premier League with Newcastle United where he has shown his ball-winning ability. Both of them will have their work cut out this evening when they will be looking to take the ball from a Spanish midfield that rarely give it away. Discipline is required. Can they do that for 90 minutes? I’m not convinced.

Going forward, Samir Nasri has a good start when he scored and looked lively against England. Since then, he has failed to shine against both Ukraine and Sweden. He’s certainly capable of playing better than he has, but will he? Franck Ribery has played very poorly down the left wing in this tournament. A lot has been expected of him and little has been delivered. He can certainly become frustrated when Spain pressure him immediately after receiving possession as they do.

Karim Benzema has been limited to long, hopeful attempts on goal in this tournament. He has had more shots to date in this tournament than anyone else who has failed to score. His team mates have failed to create many chances for the Real Madrid striker inside the penalty area. Potentially a chance in this game in his wide men play well. Something that has not happened in three games against weaker defences and side where France have had a lot of possession.

Which France team will show up? They have just 1 win from their first 3 games, have been beaten by an eliminated Sweden side and half of their side have yet to show up. On paper, they’re capable of giving Spain a tough contest. On form, they’re not.  Spain’s odds have been creeping up today, currently at 1.89.