France head into their Euro 2012 quarter-finals tonight with World and European champions Spain as slight underdogs.
Most teams that will encounter Spain at the championships will be underdogs but I don’t think France should fear the Spaniards.
Apart from the 4-0 victory over Republic of Ireland Spain really have looked flat in their other two games and looked very edgy against Croatia in their last group game.
They don’t look like the same team that won the competition four years ago or the side that won the World Cup in South Africa two years ago.
It seems the Spanish are now on a slight downward curve. Spain may still be ranked first in FIFA’s ranking but I think they are far from invincible.
Prior to the 2-0 defeat to Sweden in their last group game France had been on an undefeated run of 21 games under boss Laurent Blanc. Les Bleus have had a revolution since the appointment of the former-Bordeaux boss.
The camp was very unsettled at World Cup 2010 but Blanc has restored the belief in the French squad. They now look a more settled unit with talented. Although there were rumours of a bust-up after the Sweden defeat, everything seems to be more settled now.
France does have some very talented players in their squad in the likes of Franck Ribery, Samir Nasri and Karim Benzema. The Real Madrid players in the Spanish squad will know all about the threat of Benzema from playing alongside him at club level.
Benzema took awhile to settle in Spain but last season was undoubtedly his best for Los Blancos. However, he has so far flattered to deceive at Euro 2012. Maybe this could be the game that he springs to life at Euro’s.
Winger Franck Ribery is an enigma. He can be brilliant one minute and infuriating the next. The Bayern Munich winger really has to be in the right mood for him to play at his best. If he is then he’s a fantastic talent to have in your team. If he isn’t then he can be less visible than the invisible man.
Spain no doubt have a very talented squad of players. However, I just think that they are missing the presence of old war horses Carles Puyol and David Villa. Both players have played crucial roles in the rise of Spain to football world dominance over the last five years.
They are leaders of men. Puyol maybe aging and his body may be creaking but he provides experience in the defence that you just can’t replace. Villa absence is felt by the fact that at times at Euro 2012 Spain have played without a striker.
If David Villa had been fit and in the squad then I don’t think Del Bosque would have even considered playing without a striker. It seems that Spanish head coach Vicente Del Bosque trusts Villa but can’t trust the likes of Fernando Torres, Alvaro Negredo and Fernando Llorente to lead the Spanish attack.
A number of Spanish players are walking the tightrope of suspension. Fernando Torres, Xabi Alonso, Jordi Alba and Alvaro Arbeloa are all one booking away from missing the semi-final should Spain get through.
Even for a squad of players of Spain’s quality that must be a big worry for the Spanish boss. He knows that the likes of Jordi Alba and Xabi Alonso especially are key to his teams chances of success at Euro 2012.
Spain have yet to convince me that they are still the world’s best at Euro 2012. The game against France is a chance to hammer home the fact that they are still World and European champions. A chance to prove to the world that they are still the team to beat on the international stage.
If France’s top players turn up and perform to the best of their ability then Les Bleus have a chance to cause an upset. They certainly have the talent to do so. It’s whether their big players can perform on the day that will determine if they are successful or not.
For the neutral this should be a fantastic game to watch. Two really good teams with points to prove. This game really does have the potential to be one of the best at Euro 2012 so far. Hopefully the game will live up to its potential and we will have a great football spectacle.
Can France upset the odds and defeat World Champions Spain?