Saturday night sees a match fit for a final as the World Champions take on France in Donetsk. France’s 23-game unbeaten run came to a grinding halt against Sweden, meaning that instead of a meeting with Italy they must now face up to the defending champions. It could prove a costly result. Spain finished top of Group C with a last-gasp winner against Croatia, but despite a swashbuckling performance against Ireland questions still remain over La Furia Roja, and more tellingly their unequivocal support of the Tiki-Taka style of play. This one has all the makings of a classic, let’s hope for our sake that it lives up to its billing.
|An eye on Cabaye: The French midfielder reminds me of a|
young Xabi Alonso with his mesmerising passing ablility.
Spain haven’t quite hit the heights of 2010, but then again were those heights as lofty as our nostalgic minds would have us believe. They by no means waltzed to that title, scoring only 6 goals in their seven matches. That’s hardly impressive is it. Some have even had the audacity to call it boring. How can a team that completes 810 passes in a match, most of them in the oppositions final third, be boring?
Now I neither adhere to those misguided beliefs or deny them out of hand. There’s no doubt about it, Spain can be a bit tedious to watch at times, but the blame doesn’t lie solely with them. Almost every team they come up against tends to park the proverbial bus, turning the game into an endless display of short range passing. While Barcelona tend to inject some urgency every now and again through the sublime Lionel Messi, Spain seem content to pass the ball around the box waiting for a gap to appear. And therein lies their problem. Fernando Torres, as good a striker as he may be, does not suit Spain’s style of play. He is at his most deadliest playing off the shoulder of the final defender and making runs in behind the defence. This becomes an increasingly difficult task when Spain play the ball around the edge of the 18 yard area, meaning the space in behind is effectively negated. Lucky for them, they won’t be up against the English but rather a French side that will attempt to play some football of their own.
And that could very well prove to be their undoing. While France are undoubtedly a better footballing side than England, they don’t seem to possess the tools to pull off a victory here. France are simply not built to defend for 90 minutes, putting 10-men behind the ball and leaving Benzema upfront to feed on scraps. They could do a lot worse than to follow Croatia’s blueprint, which was a Rakitic header away from sending the defending champions crashing out. France will need to be clinical, and Benzema will have to recapture some of the form that he’s shown at Real Madrid over the past two seasons. Croatia sat back and absorbed the pressure, opening up in the final 20 minutes, with Luka Modric coming to the fore.
That role may fall on the assured shoulders of Yohan Cabaye, who missed the defeat to Sweden, showing just how integral he is to the French system. If he can get on the ball and along with Yann M’Vila get the better of Alonso and Busquets, France may just be able to do the unthinkable. It is down the left though that they may be able to make the biggest inroads, with Franck Ribery re-igniting his battle with Alvaro Arbeloa. It was a battle which he won comfortably when the two met in the Champions League, and provided Vincente Del Bosque keeps faith with the ex-Liverpool liability, France may just have their in.
Both teams have a wealth of attacking talent in their midst, and provided they are given free-rein this one could see plenty of goalmouth action. The bookies don’t seem to agree with my view that there will be goals here, but that does help to grow our profit margin. The over 2.5 goals market at 12/10 looks worth a dabble, as does both teams to score at 21/20.
VERDICT: France 37/10
I am going to remain true to my pre-tournament beliefs that this Spanish team is fallible. Les Bleus loss to Sweden may just have been the wake-up call that they required. It wouldn’t surprise me if this one went to extra-time, and in that case Spain have to be considered favourites, given that the French should tire after chasing the ball for much of the 90 minutes. This new generation of French stars will come of age on Saturday, in defeat or victory. This French team is going places, mark my words.
Written by Commodore Vegas for @Hollywoodbets. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!
Think we've got it wrong? Well leave your comments below and tell us how you think this one is going to play out.