Spain vs. France: X-Factors That Will Decide Pivotal Euro 2012 Quarterfinal Tilt

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistJune 23, 2012

DONETSK, UKRAINE - JUNE 15:  Olivier Giroud of France on the ball during the UEFA EURO 2012 group D match between Ukraine and France at Donbass Arena on June 15, 2012 in Donetsk, Ukraine.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Ian Walton/Getty Images

When Spain and France meet in Euro 2012's third quarterfinal match on Saturday, it will be a battle between two squads that appear to be heading in separate directions. Spain is flying high as it has won twice since tying Italy, while France limped into the quarters as they lost to Sweden 2-0 after drawing England and beating Ukraine.

None of that matters now, however, as both La Roja and Les Bleus are on equal footing. Everyone knows about the stars like Fernando Torres, David Silva and Andres Iniesta for Spain, and Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema for France, but there is a good chance that some less-heralded players will have something to say about the match's result.

Here are three X-factors that will have a major impact on Saturday's match and may ultimately be the players that decide it.

Olivier Giroud

French striker Olivier Giroud's name has been in the news a lot lately as he is very near a transfer deal with Arsenal. However, he hasn't made quite as big of an impact at Euro 2012 as he has in the headlines.  

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Giroud is essentially the backup behind Benzema and has played just 21 minutes in the tournament. He wasn't used against England in the opener, but Giroud has played sparingly in France's past two matches.

Giroud had an excellent season with Montpellier in the French Ligue 1 this year as he netted 24 goals in 40 contests. The level of competition is obviously much higher when you're talking about playing against Spain, who is the defending Euro and World Cup champion, but Giroud can certainly provide a spark.

There is a pretty good chance that Spain will be up by a goal at some point in the second half and that will present Giroud with his opportunity to shine. If he gets on the pitch, it will be to score a goal. He is a guy that the Spaniards will have to be wary of.

Jesus Navas

Jesus Navas may be a midfielder by name, but when he takes the field for Spain, he is out there to find the back of the net. He succeeds in doing so more often than not as well.  

Navas has played in two of Spain's matches thus far and he was particularly impressive against Croatia as he netted the lone goal of the match in the 88th minute to ensure that Spain would win the match and the group. Depending on Torres' effectiveness, Navas may play a huge role against France, too.

Torres is probably going to start the match and will be given every chance to score, but if he isn't playing particularly well then Navas could very easily replace him early in the second half. Navas is a high-energy player who is almost always threatening to the opposition's defense, so France will have to be very careful when he enters the game. If the match is tied late or France is surprisingly ahead, Navas is a guy who will be unleashed.

Mathieu Debuchy

Entering Euro 2012 there was some question as to what France would do defensively, but right back Mathieu Debuchy has made life much easier for Les Bleus.  

Debuchy has been spectacular as his ability to transport the ball down the field has made France a dangerous offensive squad. Debuchy's defensive ability hasn't been compromised, though, as he has been solid in that regard. Debuchy isn't considered to be one of France's stars, but he will have to play like one in order for the French to beat Spain.

Not only will Debuchy need to be a factor on offense in terms of activating from the back line, but he has to remain very disciplined on defense. The Spanish squad has a penchant for identifying an overly-aggressive player and making him pay. Debuchy is overaggressive in every sense of the term, but perhaps he can scale it back a bit on defense. Even if Debuchy is excelling on the attack, France will be doomed if he isn't committed at both ends.

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