Spain can move a step closer to retaining their European crown when they face France in the quarter-finals of Euro 2012 on Saturday.
After years of underachievement on the big stage, Spain finally fulfilled their promise by winning Euro 2008 in Austria and Switzerland.
They went one better two years later, lifting their first FIFA World Cup courtesy of a 1-0 extra-time victory over the Netherlands.
And Vicente Del Bosque’s team now have a chance to make history, by becoming the first country to win three successive major international tournaments.
It has been something of an underwhelming start to Euro 2012 for the holders, with Spain coming from behind to draw 1-1 with fellow quarter-finalists Italy in their Group C opener.
They cruised to a 4-0 win over a hapless Republic of Ireland, but were made to toil on their way to a narrow 1-0 victory over Croatia in the final match of the group stage.
Next up is a clash with Laurent Blanc’s France, who performed inconsistently on their way to a runner-up finish in Group D.
Widely expected to top their pool, France dominated possession in a dour 1-1 draw with England, before cruising to a 2-0 win over co-hosts Ukraine.
Expected to brush aside already-eliminated Sweden in their final match, Blanc’s men slumped to a surprise 2-0 defeat, and have been duly punished with a daunting last-eight tie against the world and European champions.
Blanc was forced to confirm reports of a heated exchange between his players following the Sweden loss, raising the spectre of France’s internal melt-down at the 2010 World Cup.
France failed to make it out the group stages in South Africa, and made headlines for all the wrong reasons when senior players orchestrated a revolt against coach Raymond Domenech.
Blanc dismissed the latest spat as the natural consequence of a disappointing result, but it remains to be seen how an underperforming France side can hope to topple Del Bosque’s experienced team.
While Spain are yet to really turn it on in any of their matches so far, they are experts are retaining possession, and will be expected to starve their opponents of the ball once again at the Donbass Arena, Donetsk.
France must hope questionable centre-backs Philippe Mexes and Adil Rami can hold their shape, while looking to the talent of Franck Ribery, Samir Nasri and Karim Benzema to provide an outlet in attack.
Spain meanwhile will rely on Barcelona trio Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets to control midfield, with Chelsea striker Fernando Torres favoured to lead the line.
A last-four showdown against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal awaits the winner, with the match to be played in Donetsk on June 27.
- Soccer News Like
- Be the first of your friends!