Euro 2012, Quarterfinal Preview: All About The Benzemas?

This time, Spain’s got the dominant player in Iniesta….

by Zack Goldman, The Google of Euro 2012

…And just like that we’re five games away from the end of the Euros.  Up next we’ve got a mouthwatering clash between Spain and France played in the Donetsk Mothership.  The tiki-taka boys went undefeated in the group stage with 7 points, while Les Bleus made it through Group D in second position with 4 points after dropping their last match against Sweden, 2-0.  That was their first loss in their last 24… but it was a costly one and they now face the very real possibility of crashing out of the tournament with two defeats in a row.

5 things to think about:

ONE: You may remember the last time these two sides met in a major tournament.  It was the Round of 16 of the 2006 FIFA World Cup when Zinedine Zidane’s masterful performance steered the French to a 3-1 victory in Hannover, with two goals coming in the last ten minutes.  Six years on, the reputations of these teams are extremely different—but, even as the reigning world and European champions, you can bet the Spanish are still smarting a bit from that clash and want their revenge.

Hmm….Cesc or Nando? Nando or Cesc?

TWO: Fernando Torres, Cesc Fabregas, or none of the above?  Manager Vicente del Bosque has said that he is still undecided on his lineup as of Friday night, but the crux of his dilemma likely focuses only on the question of whether to deploy a proven striker against France or to play Fabregas as a ‘False 9’.  Torres got the nod over Cesc in the last two group matches, but he failed to make much of an impact against Croatia.

By contrast, despite playing only a half-hour of football in the past two matches combined (and being hauled off in the final stages of the opening match against Italy), Fabregas has probably had the biggest impact for his country of any player.  As the engineer of Spain’s winner against Croatia and scoring goals against both Italy and Ireland, it seems unthinkable that Cesc could be left out.  However, he is clearly the ‘sixth man’ (literally and figuratively) of the midfield and that means his inclusion would deny Spain the opportunity to play with a true striker.


THREE: Is there a more underrated player in this tournament than Yohan Cabaye?  The Newcastle midfielder has been a revelation on Tyneside this year after his arrival from Lille in the summer.  A consummate professional by all accounts—something that the French need more than anything—he has come from nowhere in the past two years to become first choice for Laurent Blanc.

Yes, I’m guilty of man-crushing pretty hard, especially after he was the subject of some particularly glowing profile pieces in the English dailies this year, but one look at this guy’s play on the field and you know why he’s getting the press he gets.  Perhaps the biggest endorsement of his impact on the French squad, however, has been how they’ve played without him—which they were forced to do after Cabaye missed the Sweden defeat as a result of a thigh problem.  He is clever, spirited, and tidy in possession—something that France will need in order to make their time on the ball count against Spain.  The question is… will he be fit?

Jesus, Navas.

FOUR: Where does Jesus Navas fit in?  All signs would indicate that he will play a role from this point on after a wonderful performance against Croatia that really unlocked the game.  His passing can often be off-the-mark, but he is an absolute pest, stretching the defense and tirelessly working them with dangerous runs.  His art of this ‘self same metal’ was on display against the Netherlands in the 2010 World Cup final—and his work in that match is often lost amid the big names who played a part on that stage in Johannesburg.  He shouldn’t start, but he may provide a much-needed punch late in the game against Italy.

FIVE: Karim Benzema knows Sergio Ramos very, very well.  I don’t know what Jedi mind tricks he is planning on using, but I’m pretty sure he’s collected a few from their training sessions at Real Madrid.  It should be a very interesting encounter.  If for any reason Piqué marks him for the majority of the match, we can also delight in the fact that they have a great working relationship as evidenced by the loads of hugs and cheek-kisses we’ve seen this year in the goodnatured matches between Barcelona and Madrid.  Enjoy, my friends!


I think this one sees extra-time.  Spain 2-1 France after 120.

21 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2012/06/23 at 5:33 AM

    First choice centre back pairing of Mexes – Rami were suspect at best. Now Mexes is suspended, you have got to think Mr. Del Bosque will start with a true forward with good movement. Plus, when was the last time Koscielny got minutes?

    Will France park le bus and play on the counter? They certainly have the necessary speed to do so. Time for M’Vila and Diarra to step up.

    I see Spain taking this in regular time pretty comfortably.


  2. Posted by dth on 2012/06/23 at 6:40 AM

    To whet the appetite:


    • Posted by Zack on 2012/06/23 at 10:12 AM

      My days, that got me hyped.

      Is there any doubt he could probably still play at 40?


      • Posted by dth on 2012/06/23 at 11:15 AM

        Was thinking the same thing.

        His, shall we say, “chilled” approach to defense would make it difficult. (It’s understandable, but still…)


    • Posted by KickinNames.. on 2012/06/24 at 6:14 PM

      God I miss what that man brought to every game he played in.
      And seeing Claude one last time was a nice treat as well. Maekele revolutionized the #6 role in Euro and intl football IMO. Very underrated piece that made Real and Chelsea’s engine run during their heyday and always one of my favorite players.


  3. Posted by matthewsf on 2012/06/23 at 10:49 AM

    France: France team to face Spain: Lloris; Reveillere, Rami, Koscielny, Clichy; Debuchy, M’Vila, Cabaye, Malouda, Ribery & Benzema


  4. Posted by JW on 2012/06/23 at 12:05 PM

    Header off a cross. Spain. Unchallenged, but still.


  5. Posted by Zack on 2012/06/23 at 12:08 PM

    Awful marking all the way around for the first 20 minutes. Shape needs a lot of work. No heads on a swivel.


  6. Posted by dth on 2012/06/23 at 12:08 PM

    France are between tactics. Their defensive line is medium-high, which does little to expose the problems of a strikerless formation. It’s as if Blanc couldn’t decide whether to aggressively attack Spain or concede the play to them.


  7. Posted by Union on 2012/06/23 at 4:20 PM

    Anyone watching FoxSoccer’s god awful production of this Masters game?


  8. Posted by Union on 2012/06/23 at 4:35 PM

    Anddddd, the feed cut out from Miami. Well done.


  9. Posted by dth on 2012/06/23 at 4:45 PM

    Watching Union-Sporting. It’s going to take at least a year to clear out all the junk Nowak decided to acquire in his descent into madness. And that’s before the question of whether Hackworth is a decent coach or not (probably not).

    To me, though–and this is just a guess, because all of the junk distorting the view–the raw pieces for what I’d imagine a Caleb Porter MLS team would look like are there.


  10. Posted by Union on 2012/06/23 at 5:09 PM

    How is Freddy looking?


    • Posted by dth on 2012/06/23 at 5:53 PM

      Let’s just say his substitution at 60′ or so was deserved.

      Too bad–his two previous games I’d seen him in were really very good. I’m intrigued to see how he plays the rest of the season.


  11. Posted by dth on 2012/06/23 at 6:14 PM

    FC Dallas-Chivas USA has to be the most confounding matchup from a coaching perspective.

    Chivas USA: My team looked pretty good with a 4-3-3 with Agudelo cutting in from the left side. Therefore, I should clearly play a 4-4-2 diamond.

    FC Dallas: I have the best-rated academy in US Soccer, one that has produced numerous US and Mexican youth internationals, as well as several MLS players, as well as several players for other teams in other countries. Therefore, instead of giving academy players a chance or loaning them out, I will play Scott Sealy and let most of the academy players rot on the bench.


    • Posted by dth on 2012/06/23 at 6:30 PM

      Actually, looks like they’re in more of a 4-3-3 type shape now. Agudelo had a nice curled shot from the left that forced Hartman to parry it away; should’ve been finished by Alejandro Moreno but, uh, wasn’t.

      In general, Agudelo’s play at Chivas has tended to back up those people yelling at Backe to just give him more time. I just don’t think it would’ve happened with Henry taking the same spaces and Backe being an “Xbox coach,” as Agudelo put it.


  12. Posted by narkid on 2012/06/23 at 11:06 PM

    dth, for all your commentary, philly won 4-0. 2 nil with fredinho on the pitch, and chivas was held scoreless.


    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2012/06/24 at 4:24 AM

      At least he did not try to shoehorn a Michael Bradley compliment in there.


      • Posted by narkid on 2012/06/24 at 5:17 AM

        george, please dont try and make bad karma for yourself. you are playing the italians today.


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