Spain 2-0 France
The worst game of the tournament so far, and by quite a margin too.
Both teams looked extremely lethargic and tired, but the crucial difference was desire. Spain looked, while exhausted at times, like they wanted the win. France did not. The French, who had such a barn-storming qualification and looked like they had put the fractures of South African behind them, have imploded all over again.
The team problems have been documented in the media, the clashes between players, the ego trips, the coaches unable to rein in the players and their arguments. It was very evident in the way they played against Sweden, and it was even more evident tonight.
It was an open passing game, with the French willing to step off the Spanish, allowing them and their six man midfield to pass the ball at will as they did against Ireland. The Spanish were not as pressing when not in possession as they usually are, so France were also able to sweep the ball around when they had it.
Such a free-flowing description hides the inane nature of the contest, frequently directionless, with neither team showcasing a killer edge. The Spanish goal was a well worked move from the left met with a fine header from Alonso, who bossed the show for Spain, but it had more to do with the non-movement of Malouda then anything, who looked very much like a player who simply could not be bothered. Aside from that, the Spanish looked bereft when it came to the French penalty area, with only rare flashes of the brilliance when it comes to the through ball skill that Spain have utilised to the full in other games.
Benzema and Ribery disappointed, being unable to really affect the game in the way they wanted, shut down by a strong enough Spanish defence. Benzema’s ballooning effort in the second half was a micro chasm of his entire tournament. Xavi and Ineista were mediocre more mediocre then they usually are I mean, but still managed to maintain a pass completion rate that any manager would kill to have.
Perhaps it was the poor atmosphere in the stadium, the fatigue if a long season catching up with them, the lack of drive from the French, whatever it was it resulted in a game of football that, despite the occasion, looked like a friendly match. France deserved to be beaten, but they did not even look that disappointed when they were defeated. The second goal was from a soft enough decision, but added a measure of justice to the scoreline.
France go home with their squad in another tumult, all the good work that Blanc has done over the past two years in ruins. Another re-building effort may have to take place, but it will be one based around moulding what is there already into a team capable of sticking together rather than clearing out and bringing in a largely new squad.
Spain move on to a rematch with Portugal, hoping to repeat the domineering performance that saw them past their Iberian neighbours in South Africa, in a game where the scoreline did not do justice to the course of what took place, such was the Spanish level of dominance. But fitness will be an issue for del Bosque and his players, who are looking more and more unlikely to go the distance at the level they are used to performing at. Portugal will give them a tougher game then France did, but as always, the neutralisation of Ronaldo, something this Spanish defence has lots of experience with given its make-up, will be half the job for Spain.