Euro 2012 Quarterfinals: Predictions for Spain vs. France
It promises to be the best of Euro 2012's quarterfinals.
Spain, the reigning champions, face France at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk, Ukraine at 19:45 (GMT) on Saturday.
It has been described by many as an international derby, so undoubtedly, we can expect plenty of passion from both sides. Although Vicente Del Bosque's side will be favourites, Les Bleus will not fear their foes.
La Furia Roja (The Red Fury) are still unraveling their tactical conundrum of their striker-less formation, which Laurent Blanc will be keen to exploit on Saturday, especially with an explosive attacking trio of Franck Ribery, Karim Benzema and Samir Nasri at his disposal.
Here, I look to make some predictions for this fascinating encounter.
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Predicting the first goalscorer can be tricky as there is such an abundance of attacking talent on display from both teams.
I am looking for Karim Benzema to make a significant impact in this quarterfinal.
Considering he has endured a relatively quiet tournament so far, the Real Madrid forward is due a goal, having failed to register for Les Bleus since the pre-tournament friendly against Estonia.
Scoreless in all three group matches, I expect Benzema to end his mini-drought in front of goal, especially since he will be facing defenders that he knows very well from his club football.
As for Spain, with Vicente Del Bosque able to select a side without a recognised striker, there are numerous candidates for the first goalscorer.
David Silva and Andres Iniesta look to be the most likely for La Furia Roja, given that they are the only attacking options that are assured of a start.
With Philippe Mexes ruled out of this game, Laurent Koscielny will enter the fray, but the Arsenal defender will only be earning his fourth cap.
As a result, I expect Laurent Blanc to utilise a deep-lying defence—with either Alou Diarra or Yann M'Vila or both (if fit)—screening this back line. This feels like a logical tactic to use when France are without the ball, relying upon their forwards to press higher up the pitch.
With no space in behind, Fernando Torres' potential to score is limited, and if Cesc Fabregas starts, he will tend to be acting as a pivot for the midfielders to work off, often operating with his back to goal. Therefore, the likeliest scorers for Spain should be the runners from midfield, Silva and Iniesta.
Referee Nicola Rizzoli to Stifle France's Approach
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Italian Nicola Rizzoli has been selected to officiate this quarterfinal.
A much respected referee by UEFA, the 40-year-old has taken charge of two games so far, France versus England and Portugal versus Netherlands.
In total, he has handed out five yellow cards so far, but this is below his average of exactly five yellow cards per match, based on the 2011/12 domestic season, including UEFA competitions. Rizzoli brandished 120 yellow cards in total over 24 matches.
In a match where France will be encouraged to seize the initiative in the match and attempt to forcefully regain possession, plenty of fouls will undoubtedly occur.
Considering that Rizzoli is showing just half of his average yellow cards per game in these two games that he has refereed at Euro 2012, we can expect considerably more in this game.
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Again this can be tough to predict due to Laurent Blanc tactics, as of yet, being undecided.
From his various rants towards England and their negative style, it feels like Blanc is too proud to stifle the Spanish completely. Blanc should give more of a license to the significant attacking weapons at his disposal. A somewhat adventurous strategy will be displayed by the French in this regard, by demanding his front line hunt in groups to reclaim possession.
With this in mind, I expect the French to score, but on the other hand, without Philippe Mexes to anchor the defence, the responsibility falls on the inexperienced duo of Laurent Koscielny and Adil Rami.
Spain's relentless pressure will eventually crack the pair, who will not be helped by Blanc belatedly dropping Patrice Evra, which will have further destabilised the defence.
I feel Spain will eventually take the lead, but given their default mode upon seizing control on a game is to pass the opposition to death, a victory margin of more than one goal seems unlikely.
This is where Spain differ from Barcelona, as La Furia Roja tend to play the clock and wait for opportunities to present themselves when leading, rather than the Blaugrana's (Barcelona's nickname meaning "blue and deep red palace.") approach of continuing to probe the opposition in order to seize them.
With this in mind a 2-1 victory to Spain appears a logical assessment, with perceived Blanc's tactics integral to this conclusion.