Spain team players celebrate a second goal during their Euro 2012 quarter-final soccer match against France at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk, June 23, 2012. (Photo : REUTERS/Yves Herman)
Amid sharp criticism, Spain continued to show why they are the defending Euro Cup and World Cup Champions with an impressive 2-0 victory over France.
Spain had come under attack from critics for not maintaining its dominating form and for its frustrating manner of winning its matches. It had become custom for Spain to dominate play for the entirety of the match before scoring in waning seconds. In their match against Italy, they tied up the Italians in the 63rd minute, while in the Croatia game, the Iberians pulled out the victory in the 88th minute when it looked like they might end the group stage as runner-ups.
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However, against the French, Spain struck early when Xabi Alonso scored on a header off a beautiful Jordi Alba cross. Alonso, playing in his 100th match for Spain, would add a second goal on a penalty kick in the 90th minute when French defender Anthony Reveillere fouled substitute Pedro Rodriguez in the penalty area.
France knew that it would not control the ball throughout the match and French manager Laurent Blanc prepared his starting lineup to reflect a more defense-oriented team. He employed two right backs, Mathieu Debuchy and Anthony Reveillere, and retained forwards and midfielders Samir Nasri, Jeremy Menez, Hatem Ben Arfa and Marvin Martin on the bench. This essentially left forwards Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema alone in the offensive zone.
The plan worked to a certain extent, as Spain only possessed the ball for 55 percent of the match, well below their usual 60 to 65 percent ball control. France pressured Spain into a faster tempo all night long and looked for the golden opportunity to score. However, unlike most teams, they were playing from behind for the majority of the match, making Spain's game a bit more relaxed.
France had a few opportunities to score, but they more or less came to nothing as Spanish Goalkeeper "Saint" Iker Casillas made key saves when necessary.
Spain meanwhile returned to a striker-less formation and reinserted Cesc Fabregas into the lineup in favor of Fernando Torres. The change enabled Spain more fluid passing in the French end in the early going and enabled Spain to force the French into stretching their defense uncomfortably. Spanish coach Vicente Del Bosque also overloaded the right side of the field with Alvaro Arbeloa and David Silva forcing Franck Ribery to defend and diminishing France's already minimized offense.
The victory over France marked the first time in seven tries that Spain defeated France in competitive play. France eliminated Spain from the 2000 Euro Championship on their way to being crowned champions and in 2006 the French also eliminated the Spaniards from World Cup contention in the knockout rounds.
The win was also the eighth consecutive shutout for Spain in the knockout stages of a tournament dating back to the Euro Cup 2008. The victories include a 0-0 tie with Italy that they won in penalty kicks; a 3-0 blitz over Russia and a 1-0 victory over Germany in the final. They followed those up with four straight 1-0 wins in the 2010 World Cup, including the final match.