Arguably the most attractive of the quarter final fixtures from the National Stadium in Warsaw on Saturday evening, Spain v France.
Without yet looking as spectacular and unbeatable as they did in South Africa two years ago and in Austria and Switzerland two years previously, Spain have come through a difficult Group C as winners and will now face France in the quarters.
While the Spanish have still impressed with their fluent and idealistic play, the French have underwhelmed in labouring to second place in Group D. A 2-0 loss in their final group-stage match against Sweden means they must now see off the world and European champions in order to progress to the semi-finals. Rumours, whether true or not, of manager Laurent Blanc being in talks with Tottenham Hotspur can’t be helping matters.
Much of the discussion about and deliberation over Spain this past fortnight has been regarding Vincente del Bosque’s decision to field sides without a recognised striker. In their opening game against Italy it was a starting XI without any out-and-out forward, then against Croatia, when chasing the game to an extent, Del Bosque substituted Fernando Torres, the only Spanish striker on the pitch, and replaced him with midfielder Jesus Navas.
There are obvious arguments to say that the tactics have worked in that they qualified for the quarter-finals as Group C winners. But there can also be a case made for the fact that the defending champions didn’t look entirely convincing in their opening and final group games.
The question must be whether France can pose a more significant threat than either Italy and/or Croatia. One should assume that the French, and particularly Karim Benzema, will be considerably more lethal in front of goal than, particularly, the wasteful Croatians, who could and perhaps should have beaten Spain and in doing so knocked them out of the tournament. But the performance against Sweden, particularly in defence, suggests that Les Tricolores will come to fall this Saturday evening.
Blanc himself declared that his side’s chances are slim, saying: “You have to be optimistic to think we can beat Spain, but it’s hard right now to imagine we can.”A damning admission and one that hardly inspires confidence in any punter considering taking Spain on.
At odds of 5/6 to win inside the 90 minutes Spain look a very good bet at this stage of the tournament and particularly against a disappointing French side. I don’t, however, believe that Spain will win Euro 2012 and strongly believe that the Germans will gain revenge for semi-final defeat in South Africa should the teams meet at the final four stage here. But that’s a bet for another day.
Back to this game and Under 2.5 goals seems another obvious bet at odds of 8/15, particularly if Del Bosque persists with not playing a recognised striker. Both teams enjoy a patient and cautious approach, and remember Spain were 1-0 winners in all three of their 2010 World Cup knockout games leading up to the final.
If Spain do play without an out-and-out striker, and perhaps even if they do, there isn’t a blatantly obvious choice as to who we should be looking to back in the goalscorer markets. CescFabregas, Andres Iniesta and David Silva have been the most advanced Spanish trio in the group stage matches and can be backed at 13/8, 9/4 and 15/8 respectively to score at anytime.
Spain 1-0 France @ 4/1