Spain cruise past limp French
Spain remain on course to retain their European Championship crown after cruising past France 2-0.
Last Updated: 24/06/12 11:16am
It may not be football as we know it but a strikerless Spain remain on course to retain their European Championship crown after progressing to the competition's last four courtesy of a comfortable 2-0 win over France in Donetsk.
On his 100th appearance for the national side Xabi Alonso, one of six midfielders who started for the Spanish, was on target twice as Vicente del Bosque's side cruised into the semi-finals.
Alonso ghosted into France's box on 19 minutes to expertly head Jordi Alba's clipped cross on the overlap into the ground and past Hugo Lloris, before in stoppage time the deep-lying schemer calmly convert from the penalty spot after Anthony Reveillere had clumsily upended substitute Pedro.
The Real Madrid man's opener was no more than Spain deserved for a first half in which a ragged France side enjoyed just 34.9 per cent possession. Previously under Laurent Blanc they had never recorded less than 49.3%.
After the interval a largely insipid France improved slightly as Blanc committed more men forward, but a dearth of ideas in the final third ensured Spain were never unduly unworried in a contest more in keeping with an end of season dead rubber than a quarter-final tie of a major international tournament.
In reverting to his strikerless starting formation Del Bosque replaced Fernando Torres with Cesc Fabregas in his only change from the win against Croatia.
France made four changes and started with two right-backs in Reveillere and Mathieu Debuchy, although neither could prevent Alba supplying Alonso with a telling cross for Spain's first.
Spain set out their stall early, with Xavi and Andres Iniesta combining magnificently in midfield and they almost succeeded in picking out Fabregas.
France were struggling to keep possession, which is not a problem Spain's midfield artists suffer from too often and certainly not on Saturday.
The French formation was affording Alvaro Arbeloa and David Silva plenty of space in which to attack down the Spanish right - but the opening after 19 minutes came down their left flank.
Iniesta burst forward and while left-back Alba got the better of Debuchy, Alonso had escaped the attentions of Florent Malouda.
When Alba stood up his cross at the far post, Alonso came racing in unmarked to beat Lloris with a downward header directed back across goal.
France had barely tested the Spanish defence and Karim Benzema wasted a 25-yard free-kick by lofting it so high over the bar that Yohan Cabaye took over for the next one.
The Newcastle midfielder did much better, forcing Iker Casillas into a smart one-handed save just under his crossbar.
Casillas caused just a brief moment of panic in the Spanish defence when he dropped the subsequent corner but the Real Madrid goalkeeper recovered quickly.
Meanwhile, Spain continued trying to pick Les Bleus apart and Laurent Koscielny had to be alert to intercept Fabregas' delightful lofted pass towards Iniesta.
France inexplicably left Gerard Pique unmarked in their own box from a corner and were fortunate the Barcelona defender missed the target with his header.
There was greater energy and urgency about France after the interval, with Benzema almost finding Debuchy in the Spanish box.
Debuchy was then picked out by Franck Ribery but planted his firm header over the bar and Benzema then ran at the Spanish defence before unleashing a shot even worse than his earlier free-kick.
Clichy and Ribery combined neatly down the French left but the ball would not come down for Malouda and Pique cleared Spain's lines.
Spain broke with Xavi trying to release Fabregas but Lloris read the pass well and raced out to the edge of his box to smother the danger in a well-timed challenge.
While France sent on Samir Nasri and Jeremy Menez, Spain introduced Pedro and Torres, who would have combined to double the lead after another beautifully-crafted attack had Koscielny not been on hand with another timely interception.
France were finding some joy down the left flank and Ribery worked his way to the byline before driving a low cross towards Menez, which Casillas just about dealt with.
But a Spanish victory never seemed in doubt from the moment Alonso opened the scoring and it was confirmed in the last minute.Pedro's quick feet got him into the box, he went down under pressure from Reveillere and Alonso despatched the spot-kick.
|1||1st Half Goals||0|
|3||Shots on Target||1|
|6||Shots off Target||3|
|67.4||1st Half Poss.||32.6|
|55.3||2nd Half Poss.||44.7|