Spain may be the team with the second-best odds of winning Euro 2012. It may be the champion of the two most recent major soccer tournaments.
There couldn't be a better time for Spain to capitalize and beat France for the first time in six attempts: France needed an airing-of-grievances meeting in order to get its head in the game in time for the quarterfinals, whereas Spain emerged victorious from Group C in the last round after two shutout wins over Ireland and Croatia.
There was a time when the Spanish team was nothing but a disappointing group of underachievers.
Back in 2006, Spain lost to France 3-1 in the second round of the 2006 World Cup, and it's still not over that particular loss. It made up for it with wins at Euro 2008 and at the 2010 World Cup, but it hasn't had the chance to beat France en route, so there's one more thing this team has to do to make sure it has properly avenged its past futility.
Defender Sergio Ramos explained his team's motivation to the AP: "Football offers up something nice, which is you always get a chance at revenge and [Saturday] night we get that chance."
Coach Vicente del Bosque added:
"There are facts that can't be denied, and we will strive to change that. We're favorites since we're world and European champions, but in the prior matchups France has been superior to us. Let's see if we are capable of changing that precedent by extending the success we've achieved."
And if there was ever a time France could be seen as vulnerable, that time is now.
The team that many expected to come out on top of Group D started off Euro 2012 by drawing with England, then followed it up with a big win over Ukraine before suffering a devastating 2-0 loss at the hands of lowly Sweden.
"We took a bit of time to calm everyone down, and coming back to our base camp allowed us to do that. It did delay us in terms of when we could start preparing for Spain. … There is no conflict. There were words exchanged after the game. There was a reaction, and some players were very angry—that is true."
A unified front isn't necessarily the only contributing factor to a hard-fought championship in the toughest football tournament in existence, but it is certainly part of the equation.
Right now, France has none of it, and facing the team that won the last Euro and the last World Cup could provoke one of two outcomes: It could give France the opportunity to rally around a chance for a big upset, or it could give France an opportunity to unravel even further.
Does France have any chance of advancing to the semifinals?
Except this time, if France unravels, there's no chance of redemption. If France loses, that's a wrap on Euro 2012, and Spain is well aware of that, too. All it needs is one big win—one excellent defensive performance—and it moves closer to achieving a third straight huge victory.
Granted, Spain hasn't been lights out thus far at Euro, but it has submitted one of the best overall defensive performances. You're allowed to say that when the most goals you've allowed is one. One, to Italy in its first game of the tournament—and Spain has only gotten better since then.
This isn't 2006 anymore. It's a new era for the Spaniards, and they'll make it known, loud and clear, on Saturday.