France… What is it about France? So much talent, so little care. Then we have Spain, so much talent, almost too much, to the extent that they’ve become, dare I say boring? So what would happen when the teams met? I expected a good game. I expected the talent on show to shine. I expected so much, so what would the game have to offer?
Spain versus France
The team news brought the alarm bells. France had dropped Nasri, they had gone with two full-backs on the right side and they had done what every team seems to do against Spain and tried to pack the midfield, big mistake. In tactical terms it might have been the right decision but already I feared it was going to ruin the game as a spectacle and I wondered what such a negative selection was going to do to the French mindset.
France were on a good run, then it all went spectacularly wrong against Sweden. Why did it go wrong? Perhaps it’s the fact that it seems in recent years you can’t get a team of Frenchmen together for any length of time without a massive falling out. This was always the fear with France, but under Laurent Blanc France had seemed to turn a corner, then after the insipid display against Sweden those old problems seemed to have returned with full force. Samir Nasri was the figurehead of discontent and dissatisfaction, after his “shhhhh” celebration after his goal against England targeted at the press, stories surfaced that at half-time in the Sweden game there were arguments that started over individual players work-rate and contribution for which he was the target. France lost and then had to face Spain, hardly the perfect preparation.
Now there is a trendy idea doing the rounds on twitter that Spain are boring to watch. This is perhaps the backlash to all the ridiculous over-hyping that has followed the team and their success. At times it borders on a hysteric fervour, have you seen the way Spain pass the ball? That is the only true way to play football they say, that is the beautiful game. So why could they possibly be boring? Well, watch this game and find out.
France sat back and that didn’t help the game. Spain left out a centre-forward and played their 6 midfielder formation, they didn’t have a focal point and often when that happens they pass for the sake of passing. They don’t have the same purpose and aggression that Germany has. They only have one way to test the defence, but they do it exceptionally well. The game would have been helped if France had committed more players forward, but they didn’t do that either, except for the odd glimpse of Karim Benzema and Franck Ribery.
Spain opened the scoring when the pace of Jordi Alba was released down the left and after out sprinting Anthony Reveillere he crossed well to find the unmarked Xabi Alonso in the box who headed powerfully back in the direction the ball came from to open the scoring, probably the worst thing that could have happened to the game, but I want to talk about Florent Malouda.
Laurent Blanc, what were you thinking? What was going on in the French camp? You can’t pick a team set up to defend and have Malouda in the middle, that’s just asking for trouble. His work-rate or complete lack of it was horrible. He simply didn’t track back. He didn’t even think about it. He just let Alonso run into the box and score. All the while Alou Diarra was sat on the bench. Terrible managerial decision. Terrible performance by the player. Terrible.
Then the game almost completely died till just after the hour mark when substitutions were made and France started to go for it, a little bit. Spain were happy at 1-0 which was depressing, but it was almost as if they knew the French didn’t have a goal in them. It was a dour and tremendously frustrating viewing experience. Pedro added a bit of pace and intent to the Spanish, keen to make an impact, he was one of the few players that looked like he actually wanted to score a goal. It was his bursting run into the box that finally killed off the contest, as he was brought down and Alonso dispatched the penalty.
Spain hadn’t got out of first gear and had won the game 2-0. France hadn’t done anything, it was a pitiful display of shrugging and laziness that I thought Blanc had expunged from the French side. He got his tactics wrong and the team’s attitude was appalling. There is no better example of this than Nasri having a go at a journalist after the game for questioning the teams attitude and performance. The pathetic arrogance to assume that performance was anything like acceptable is astounding. Having done so well to rebuild the side after the complete debacle in South Africa Blanc would be well advised to get rid of most of this generation of French players and start again, but I get the impression that he has no intention of hanging around and will find a job in club management.
For Spain, hopefully Portugal should provide a far better test but they could not have hoped for an easier route into the semi-finals, with most of their players keeping plenty in the tank. The game was genuinely unpleasant to watch which is a travesty considering the amount of ability on the pitch.
Highlight of the game: Nope, none, go away.