Monday, July 15, 2024

Spain v France: ´Outsiders´ tag has aided La Roja ahead of semi-final showdown, says Cucurella

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 7 Jul 2024

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Spain heading into Euro 2024 as “outsiders” instead of the pre-tournament favourites has aided La Roja, says Marc Cucurella ahead of Tuesday’s semi-final against France.

Luis de la Fuente’s side are looking to reach their fifth European Championship final, with only Germany playing in more (six), after remaining perfect through five games so far.

Spain needed a last-gasp Mikel Merino header for their 2-1 extra-time victory over hosts Germany in Friday’s quarter-final, but Cucurella insists confidence continues to grow within the La Roja camp.

“Within football, there has long been respect for Spain, how we play and the players we have, but maybe coming in [to Euro 2024] as outsiders helped us,” the Chelsea full-back said on Sunday.

“We started with the confidence of having nothing to lose. Now that confidence has grown and we are in the key moment of the tournament.

“I knew we had a great team, which has been proven. We have fought so hard to be here, and now we need one last big effort. Two more steps.”

De la Fuente’s team will meet an out-of-sorts France in Munich for their last-four clash after Les Bleus scraped past Portugal on penalties in the quarter-final.

Didier Deschamps’ men once again failed to find the net across 120 minutes of action in their last-eight goalless draw on Friday, with only four goals scored by either team in France’s five Euro 2024 matches thus far.

Indeed, all 128 non-penalty shots have failed to be scored (86 for France, 42 for opponents), while they are the only team on record since 1980 to have more than 50 non-penalty shots at a Euros and fail to find the net with any of them.

Kylian Mbappe’s form remains a concern for Deschamps, too, with the Real Madrid-bound forward scoring just one goal from 20 shots at this edition, a penalty against Poland in their final group game.

Rather than excitement around Mbappe, who has scored just once from 34 attempts at the European Championship overall, most of the focus revolves around Spanish wingers Lamine Yamal and Nico Williams.

“With the Spanish national team, danger can come from anywhere,” France midfielder Youssouf Fofana said at his pre-match press conference.

“Nico Williams and Yamal have had a great season, but I expect them to lose on Tuesday. We have to stay as solid as we have been so far in defence.”

As for the criticism over France’s playing style, Fofana insists he has no problem, adding: “In the end, we’re in the semi-finals.”

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Spain – Lamine Yamal

Yamal has created 14 chances at this tournament, the most by a Spaniard at a major tournament since Xavi en route to winning Euro 2012 (25).

The Barcelona winger’s 14 chances created are also the most by a teenager at a major tournament that Opta has on record (since 1966 for World Cup, 1980 for Euros).

And the 16-year-old has three assists within that tally, too, with no Spanish player ever registering more at a single European Championship tournament.

France – Mike Maignan

Les Bleus have had their backs against the wall for large parts of this competition in Germany, placing a heavy burden on Milan goalkeeper Mike Maignan.

The Frenchman has a save percentage of 94% at Euro 2024 the best of any goalkeeper to have played more than one game.

Indeed, it is the best by a goalkeeper at a Euros tournament since Iker Casillas for the Euro 2012 winners Spain (also 94%).

MATCH PREDICTION: SPAIN WIN

Spain appear the narrow favourites to reach the final, with La Roja winning in 90 minutes in 38.1% of pre-match simulations by the Opta supercomputer.

France are still afforded a 31.8% chance of victory, with the draw – sending the tie to extra time and possibly penalties – forecast in 30% of the same data-led simulations.

Yet Deschamps will be well aware of Spain’s quality, given De la Fuente’s team have won 15 of their 19 matches since the start of 2023 – their 79% win percentage is the best of any European nation in that period.

Spain are the only team to have won all five games at this tournament, though no side has ever gone six in a row in the competition’s history, nor triumphed in six matches across a single edition.

If La Roja can achieve that unprecedented feat here, then a place in the final in Berlin awaits against either England or the Netherlands.

OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

Spain – 38.2%

France – 31.8%

Draw – 30%

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SoccerNews

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