Prevailing logic says that France’s loss to Sweden and their ensuing internal arguments will result in the usual result – France getting summarily eliminated from a major tournament. Normally I’d subscribe to that notion. However, Spain hasn’t been special and France made lineup changes that didn’t work out, so look for Blance to go back to a more familiar lineup when the game kicks off tomorrow. Spain should be slightly favored but a French upset, while not probable, would be only a mild surprise. Spain be hoping this match doesn’t go to extra time – that will hurt them against the well rested Portugese. France will be hoping for penalties.
Why France will win
- Menez and Cabaye will re-enter the lineup replacing Ben Arfa and possibly M’Vila or Diarra. That will provide more offense for France, especially from Menez who was very lively against Ukraine in the group stage. If he has a good game, it will force Jordi Alba to stay back and help even out the imbalance in midfield that any team playing Spain has to face.
- Ribery will dominate Arbeloa. Puyol’s absence has moved Ramos to central defense from the right back slot and his replacement, Alvaro Arbeloa, is competent but slow. Ribery has to have a big game for France to have a chance and he is likely to enjoy going against Arbeloa. Just like Menez, if Ribery has a good game, it will force Silva to drop back to help on defense, thus evening numbers in midfield.
- Benzema has assisted on the majority of the French goals, but has yet to get on the scoresheet. It bodes well for France as he goes against a familiar defense in his club teammates Arbeloa, Ramos and Casillas. The Benz is due.
- Spain is not the usual Spain. Puyol and Villa’s absence has hurt them at critical positions and Xavi is not playing at his normal high level. Everything is just a little off for the Spaniards and there is unease about how well Ramos and Pique will perform together in the middle if they are put under real pressure. Their dislike of each other is common knowledge and the last thing Spain needs at the knockout stage.
Why Spain will win
- France’s undefeated run is over, there is infighting and neither Ribery nor Benzema have scored at Euro 2012. That is a not a great recipe for success at this stage. Spain is seasoned, used to winning and the manner in which they ground out their World Cup win will help them as they get to the business end of this tournament.
- Mexes is suspended which probably means that Koscielny gets the start. While Mexes didn’t cover himself with glory against Sweden, and Koscielny does have more pace and has played well against Messi and Barcelona the last few times they have met in the Champions League, starting at center back in a tournament for the first time in a quarterfinal match against the defending World and European champions is a daunting task for Koscielny. He is prone to making errors and there is a high likelihood that happens again today.
- Spain’s midfield domination will result in France struggling to score. Cabaye or M’Vila have to have huge games in order for Nasri, Ribery, Benzema and Menez to get enough touches to score. That will be tough. Add in the fact that France doesn’t really have aerial threats to score off of dead balls and it just means they will have to have a lot of luck to beat Spain.
- Iniesta. And Cesc. Iniesta has been in great form and Debuchy will struggle to stay with him. Cesc continues to do what he has done so well for Barcelona this past season – score off of well timed late runs into space behind the defense. That should be enough to Spain to win this match.
Pre-match prediction: Spain 1 France 0
Spain will score a goal in the second half and hold France off. Iniesta or Cesc to score for Spain.