France's national football team head coach Laurent Blanc answers to journalists
Saturday’s third Euro 2012 quarterfinal game sees tournament favourites Spain coming up against a young and up-and-coming France side. France will be disappointed after an under-par showing in their final group game against Sweden which opened the door for England to win Group D, leaving France with the tough task of facing Spain and their skilfully-coordinated play that has been dubbed ‘tiki-taka’.
Spain, on the other hand cruised through the group stage without ever seeming to leave first gear.
A tight 1-1 draw with Italy was followed by a drubbing of Ireland and a low energy 1-0 win over Croatia leaving the Spanish unbeaten and aside from a temporary setback against Italy really quite untested. While Spain will be the favourite, many will be predicting France to put up a better fight than Ireland or Croatia were able.
For Spain the key will as always be making their possession pay in terms of goals and not allowing the French to test the slightly weak Spanish back line too much.
For the French it will be key to use their young legs to disrupt the Spanish rhythm and they’ll have to take their chances when they come.
Vicente del Bosque’s team narrowly squeezed past an unfortunate Croatia side in the group stages, with many saying that the current squad are not quite up to the previous trophy winning teams of 2010 and 2008.
The six-man, striker-less, attack utilised in their opening game was heavily criticised, but is Fernando Torres the answer to all their problems?
And what about Fernando Llorente? After probably his best ever season the man from Bilbao has yet to make an appearance at these finals.
With a decidedly dodgy looking defence and an attack that’s hardly firing on all cylinders it looks like it could take something from the big names in the French midfield if they are to progress.
Tensions are creeping into the French camp at the European Championship, with the players involved in a “heated” bust-up following the team’s 2-0 loss to Sweden. France, which was hit by internal strife at the 2010 World Cup, capitulated against the Swedes and would have lost more heavily if goalkeeper Hugo Lloris had not made several saves.
Although the defeat did not prevent France from advancing to a quarter-final against Spain, the manner of it exasperated coach, Laurent Blanc and senior players like Florent Malouda.
Unfortunately, there is no Zizou to bail them out, and the biggest challenge awaits them. Unless Blanc can use some meditation and Zen philosophy to bring the France team together, there may not be enough time to regroup and play well against Spain.
Meanwhile, on Sunday, the final quarterfinal of Euro 2012 pits England, after winning a group for the first tournament in over a decade, against perennial contenders Italy. England will be on a high having won their last two games, including an excellent comeback victory against Sweden.
Having drawn Spain in their first group game, Italy managed a hard fought 1-1 draw with Croatia before beating Ireland 2-0 in their final group game – one in which the feisty Mario Balotelli got on the scoresheet for the first time in the tournament.
Both teams in this quarterfinal defend well – England playing Roy Hodgson’s two banks of four with great effect while Italy feature the world’s best active goalkeeper in Gigi Buffon and an experienced back-line.
While this could predict a drab encounter, this is unlikely as both teams have some flair going forward, Italy with players like Balotelli and Di Natale while England can counter with the reinstated Wayne Rooney and some impact subs in the form of Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain.
It will be key for England to not go behind earlier as Italy will be far tougher to battle back against than Sweden proved to be.
For Italy, it will be key to get plenty of players going forward and get between the two English banks of players – the Ukraine managed this without the final offensive punch, a punch Italy should be able to provide. This should be another close, hard fought game from which it is tough to pick a favourite.
• The only previous time Spain picked up at least seven points in the group stages of the Euros saw them crowned champions (9 points at Euro 2008).
• Since losing 0-1 to Switzerland at the 2010 World Cup, Spain has won 16 of 17 competitive games (one draw vs Italy).
• Spain have won just one of their nine previous European Championship or World Cup quarter-finals outright (v Paraguay in World Cup 2010) – four of those ended in penalty shootouts, with Spain winning just once this way (Euro 2008).
• Over their last 25 fixtures at Euros and World Cups, the only side able to score more than a goal against Spain were France (3-1 in the 2006 World Cup).
• Spain has never won a competitive game against France (L5 D1).
• France has beaten Spain at two European Championship finals (one draw) and have gone on to win the title on both occasions (1984 2-0 in the final, 2000 2-1 in the quarter-final).
• The 2-0 defeat against Sweden brought France’s unbeaten run of 23 games (W16 D7) to an end.
• Iker Casillas already has six clean sheets at European Championship finals to his name (level with Italy’s Dino Zoff); only Edwin van der Sar (nine) has more.
• Karim Benzema has attempted 17 shots without scoring, the most of all players at EURO 2012 who are still waiting for their first strike.
• Franck Ribery was involved in more duels than any other player in the group stages (75) and won 45% of them.