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No where to go

Spain are now just two steps away from retaining their European Championship title and become the first team to ever do it. They have a chance to do so because they beat France yesterday. A French side that conceded defeat to the defending champion even before a ball was kicked in anger. Only one team turned up yesterday and they are in the semi finals of the championship.

As Vicente del Bosque went back to his striker-less formation by packing the team with talented and skilful ball playing midfielders, Laurent Blanc set up his team to try and contain that but it backfired spectacularly. First of all, the same tactic used by Chelsea against Barcelona needs a lot of luck to begin with, but also the personnel to do it. France certainly do not have that. The awareness and desire to get back into positions was not France’s forte and they paid severely for it.

Any keen observer of the game would have seen how badly the tactics played out for Blanc. They would also have noticed how Spain were once again at their best. Any talk of the match being boring is absolute rubbish. They can only beat what’s in front of them. If the other team chose to be negative and just sit back, you won’t expect Spain to just drive at them at the time and just ping shots and crosses at the goal, do you? They had to be patient and draw out the markers and open up space for their runners to get behind.

Space was something that came very cheaply down the left hand side. The side that Gael Clichy was defending. Having Reveillere and Debuchy in the same side meant that left hand side was very well covered. The opposite is true on the opposite flank. Ribery provided little protection to Clichy and the Manchester City defender kept tucking into the centre without any just cause. That left massive amount of space to exploit on the right. Arbeloa, Fabregas, Silva and even Alonso were picking up valuable alone time down that side. Koscielny must be using some kind of new hair shampoo that smells so good that Clichy just couldn’t get away from.

This was one of those rare games where Iniesta doesn’t impose himself on the game as he normally does. Yet, there were no worries from the Spanish side as Xavi, Alsonso and Busquets picked up the mantle and shared the responsibility. All of them were very impressive in keeping possession and hogging the ball. All of them were quick to the ball and quick to pick up French players with the ball and win it almost immediately. Meanwhile Malouda, M’Vila and Cabaye spent too much time admiring Spain’s passing and too little in trying to pressure them. Standing off and letting them spray the ball around is fine, if you mark the right space. That, didn’t happen.

Up front, Benzema and Ribery chose a wrong day to be in doubt of their touches and ball control. Neither could effectively hold control of the ball. Every run, dribble was a tad too strong and easily picked off the ball. Ramos and Pique looked fairly comfortable while Alba does his best to win a late call-up to Spain’s diving team for the Olympics. Alba was a possible route for France to attack but Blanc made the change and probably the wrong choice as well. Valbuena would have made a better choice than Menez.

So, Spain are through to the semifinals and deservedly so. If another team comes in and play a high energy game against them, just like what Italy did, then they just might have so trouble. Respect is a good thing, too much of it is not. Something which France found out last night.

Last of the quarter finals match-ups tonight and it sees Italy taking on England. Both teams comes into this match in contrasting fortunes and performance. Italy, a run that has been half good (game v Spain and 1st half v Croatia) and half bad (2nd half v Croatia and game v Ireland). While England seemed to be picking up ahead of steam with consecutive wins after a hard fought draw in their first game.

For once though, the Italians might be the one who will have a more offensive game plan than the English. The character of the respective coaches and the personnel selected by each one meant that is the most likely scenario that we are going to find tonight. An Italian side that wants to hog the possession and impose themselves on Joe Hart’s goal. While the English side prepares to be discipline and look to break and find a goal on the counter attack or set piece.

If Prandelli can get his team to isolate Terry and maybe use di Natale to fully utilise his pace, that could be one possible route for Italy to find a goal. Marchisio may attempt more shots on goal from outside the box but unless those are top corner ones, it will unlikely to trouble Hart. Looking at the other end of the field, neither Abate nor Balzaretti (if back four is selected) were very convincing in defending. Something which Hodgson could exploit by putting his pacy wingers.

It will be interesting tonight to see which tactics Prandelli goes with. Hodgson won’t budge on his 4-4-2 and that much is known. He could retain the same line-up but fielding either Walcott or Oxlade-Chamberlain would help prevent the left/right back of Italy from being too gung-ho about going forward. A return to the 3-5-2 tactic might actually suit Italy more in this game, in my humble opinion. Packing a midfield could easily see them overrun that of Gerrard and Parker. For once though, an Italy-England is already looking less likely to be a bore than we’ve seen in the past.

Enjoy the game.