Euro 2012: Expert v Expert Preview - France v Spain


French perspective: Alexander Netherton

The careless defeat to Sweden will probably improve the French team, and yet it also ensures that they will be eliminated. There are improvements to come – not just because they couldn’t play any worse – but none of them will get them up to the standard required to beat the Spanish. A win would have let them play Italy.

Despite apparently being sober throughout the matches, Phillippe Mexes didn’t play as such, and his yellow cards in the group stage mean that he will be replaced by the only spare centre-back in the squad, Laurent Koscielny. Koscielny was reliable and impressive for most of the season for Arsenal, and there is barely a chance that he won’t offer an improvement in the middle of defence. The shame is that Laurent Blanc didn’t feel brave enough to make this change sooner.

In midfield, changes can be expected. Yohan Cabaye missed Tuesday’s debacle due to injury, but should be back. This allows France a better chance of both keeping the ball and making the most of it, vital when playing the Spanish ballhogs. Florent Malouda, one of the troublemakers in a post-match man conversation (alongside Samir Nasri and Hatem Ben Arfa) might also feature. (None of them threw punches, sadly.) Alou Diarra, impressive against England but increasingly obstructive, really shouldn’t start, but he is a Blanc favourite.

Jeremy Menez, incisive against Ukraine, was unfairly dropped for Ben Arfa, but should rejoin Karim Benzema and Franck Ribery up front. With these changes, a more fluent France – stronger in defence, midfield and attack – will have to improve on their last performance. Spain though, despite becoming so self- indulgent that you half expect them to refuse to play with something so obvious as a football these days, should be able to weather any storm.

Score prediction: France 0-1 Spain

Debuchy to get a card at 3.00; Spain 1-0 France 6.25; Spain clean sheet at 2.05.

 

Spanish perspective: Paul Wilkes

It's hard to imagine that philosopher and England great Jimmy Greaves had Spain's current predicament in mind when he first described football as “a funny old game”, but it remains pertinent. The notion that La Roja aren't playing well at the moment is simply a by-product of the very high standards they have set in the last four years. Their possession-based style has lacked penetration, but remains easy on the eye.

Meanwhile, England are living up to their lowest expectations in 46 years with a brand of football that would make most Spaniards wash their eyes out with soap, yet optimism abounds. Spain are being crucified being just slightly less impressive than in previous tounaments.

The process is often lost when evaluating football; results are evaluated rather than the bigger picture. "The reaction in the media to the Croatia win was so extreme that I watched the game all over again when I went back to the hotel, “Del Bosque revealed on Tuesday. “Now I've got a totally different view than all the judges who say we played so badly."

This team has produced the most shots, most goals, highest shooting and passing accuracy, and conceded the fewest goals in the group stage of Euro 2012. Does it really need to buck its ideas up?

If Spain are to progress against the French, it will be efficiency that sets them apart. Major changes are unlikely as they look to keep churning out victories, so Jesus Navas could be a super-sub once again. People forget there wasn't a lot of destruction in South Africa, just clinical 1-0 wins, and now the Spanish train is beginning to gain momentum, few would bet another trophy win.

Score predication: France 0-1 Spain

Under 1.5 goals at 2.50; Iniesta first goalscorer at 10.00; ‘no’ for both teams to score at 1.60.