Spain and France share a border of 389 miles. These two neighbors have long been rivals, and have participated in many wars and disputes throughout their history. Thankfully, the two neighbors have not been at war with one another since the end of the Peninsula War in 1817.
However, today in Donetsk the two will reignite old rivalries when they square up against each other for a place in the semi-finals against Portugal.
Reigning World and European Champions Spain are vying to become the first team ever to win back-to-back European Championships, and to win an unprecedented third major championship in a row. However, the pre-tournament favorites have never beaten the French in a major tournament.
In fact, France is the last team to have not only beaten, but also to have scored a goal against Spain in the knockout stages of a major tournament—when Zinedine Zidane slotted past Iker Casillas in the final seconds of France’s 3-1 win over Spain in the quarter-finals of the 2006 World Cup. Since then Spain and France have had contrasting fortunes. Whilst Spain have gone on to become the dominant force in world soccer, winning all seven of their knock-out games on route to winning the 2008 Euros and 2010 World Cup, France have failed to get out of the group stage of the last two major tournaments.
Despite Winning their Group, scoring the most goals (six) and conceding the least (1) of any team during the group stage, many feel Spain have not played at their best, and that weariness has begun to kick in. Spain may not be playing at the ridiculously high standards they have set over the last four years, but they have shown that they will not give up their Euro crown without a fight, and still seem the team to beat at this summer’s Euros.
After finishing both Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup bottom of the group on a solitary point, France arrived at Euro 2012 with expectations lower than before. Indeed, French coach Laurent Blanc recently stated that France should no longer be considered a world force in soccer. But a run of 23 matches unbeaten that ended after their poor display against Sweden appear to suggest otherwise. Rumors of post match bust-ups and rifts within the squad threaten to destroy any chance—however slim—the French have against the Spanish. But Blanc has been quick to assure the media that all is well within the squad, and that there are no chances of the controversy that rocked their 2010 world cup campaign repeating itself.
Spain’s coach Vicente Del Bosque has a full squad at his disposal to choose from, and his only real dilemma is whether to start with a recognized center forward or play with a false number nine, as Spain surprisingly did in their first game against Italy. Reports seem to suggest he will start center forward Fernando Torres, but do not be surprised if Cesc Fabregas gets the nod ahead of his fellow countryman, as Del Bosque has indicated he prefers to “dominate the midfield – to take possession and go from there”.
France will be without center back Phillipe Mexes who misses the game through suspension after picking up his second yellow of the tournament, and Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny looks certain to replace him. France also seem certain to welcome back Yohan Cabaye, who missed out on the defeat to Sweden with a thigh sprain.
• Fance has never lost to Spain in a major tournament (one World Cup and three European Championship encounters). It is six competitive matches in total.
• Spain has won three of their last four games against France, all of them friendlies (the other match being the 3-1 World Cup defeat in 2006).
• France is the only side to have beaten Spain twice at the Euros – excluding penalty shootouts (beating them in 1984 and in 2000).
· Spain has never won a European Championship quarter-final in regular time.
· Spain will equal the European Championship record of 10 matches unbeaten if they avoid defeat against France.
· Spain was the only team to keep more than one clean sheet in the group stages of Euro 2012.
· Xabi Alonso will win his 100th cap for his country if selected.
• France has reached four of the last five quarter-finals at the Euros, Greece (lost 1-0 at Euro 2004) was the last country to knock them out at this stage.
• Karim Benzema has had 15 shots so far at Euro 2012 – but no goals to show for his efforts