The countdown to the showdown rolls on, the inevitable remains safely inescapable and Europe’s tiki-taka overlords stay seated atop the continental throne for at least one weekend more.
Ho hum? Maybe so, but for a team chasing unprecedented success, there's nothing boring about winning.
Granted, it was hardly a hair-raising spectacle, this latest dish of death and dismemberment by means of pitiless Spanish passing. But much like a coarse black cloak for a sworn brother of the Night’s Watch, it’ll have to do.
There’s a larger purpose here, see?
For Spain, Saturday's simple 2-0 victory over France felt as much like a placeholder as a statement of intent. Chasing an unprecedented third straight major title, Spain dispatched France the way a picnic-goer might swat away a fly buzzing around the German potato salad.
It was ruthless, it was pedestrian and it was probably the least competitive knockout match so far in a Euro 2012 quarterfinal round that's seen little in the way of suspense.
Midfielder Xabi Alonso, distinguished principally in his previous 99 international appearances as a slick passer and a diligent steward of defensive midfield duties, scored in the 19th and 90th minutes. And that, really, was just about it.
Before and after and all in between, Spain lulled the life out of both France and the viewing public with a devastating dose of tiki-taka.
Still the team to beat at Euro 2012—as if they were ever anything less—Vicente del Bosque's squad has now won three straight games by a combined score of 7-0 while going 300 minutes without conceding. All in all, not a bad day out on the pitch for Xabi Alonso, his increasingly glorious beard and most of his success-spoiled teammates.
But it was a bad day indeed for the entire chasing pack, from Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portuguese superstar chasing his career-defining moment, to Jogi Low and the German half of the inevitable final showdown next Sunday in Kiev.
That's mostly because for Spain, beating France didn't even seem all that hard.
Nineteen minutes were all Spain needed—out-and-out strikers be damned!—for the breakthrough. Jordi Alba powered down the left, running onto an Andres Iniesta pass before curling his cross to the late-charging Xabi Alonso.
The slick-passing midfielder's stooping header was powerful, low and accurate, and French keeper Hugo Lloris had less than no chance to save it. But for all the beauty the opening goal produced, one could be forgiven for wondering how the French coaches failed to properly instruct their midfielders in tracking marks down the pitch.
There followed a suspension of hostilities, an almost interminable intermezzo as the Spanish took their Saturday evening siesta a few hours early. France mounted an offensive as the second half began but succeeded only in forcing Iker Casillas into a single save.
That brought on the boo-birds, stunningly almost more for Spain than France.
Spain playing like a team who would score at will if they didn't hate listening to Seven Nation Army— roger bennett (@rogbennett) June 23, 2012
In the end, France managed a respectable 45 percent of ball-time against the undisputed possession masters. But Les Bleus turned it into just four shots, three of which flew off target.
And by the time Xabi Alonso became the surprising two-goal hero with a stoppage-time penalty, the result was already assured in all but fact. Boring or not, France had been beaten thoroughly and, for themselves, disappointingly.
Only Ireland allowed Spain to score more quickly, and only a couple weeks ago, Laurent Blanc's team had been tipped as a darkhorse candidate to win it all. That seems silly now, but in fairness, France's failure revealed less about Blanc and his team than about the crippling effect Spain can have on opponents.
This time, the effect was utter domination, both physical and mental.
When Xabi Alonso wasn't scoring goals, he was busy competing with his teammates to win every 50-50 ball sent his way. And before halftime, a dejected Franck Ribery went to the sideline with a hole slicing his jersey apart from armpit to bottom seam.
The moment was so telling that the official might as well have ended the match by TKO, right then and right there.
He didn't, but Spain finished off Ribery and France anyway, and with frightening ease. With two more chances left, all that remains is to find out who, if anyone, can slow the defending champs down.
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