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.
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?
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.