Sunday, 24 June 2012

Day Sixteen

Spain 2 France 0

With the possible exception of Holland v Germany this was perhaps the most galactic fixture so far. Unfortunately it fell so far short of its billing that frankly I can find little to say about it.

It was very cagy for the first 15 minutes, then all caginess suddenly and briefly vanished. Jordi Alba somehow eluded the French defense down the left, Reveillere being paradoxically a little sleepy, and crossed to Xabi Alonso, alone in the penalty area. He headed it back across the goal, which was the correct thing to do as Lloris was moving the other way, and his momentum then carried him away from the ball.

The French were rocked, but they rallied, and Cabaye had a good effort from a free kick after half an hour, which Casillas had to tip over for a corner. We hoped it would mark a turning point in the game, but instead it was France's best moment.

In the 38th minute Pique had a free header in the box, but it flew over. The commentator forgot himself sufficiently to start talking about Barcelona, then suddenly remembered he was actually covering a Spain game. In fact five of their eleven starters do play for Barcelona. With four from Real Madrid, that's fully nine out of eleven from two clubs. Add in Silva of Manchester City and every player in the Spanish team finished in a top 2 league position except Jordi Alba of Valencia, who had to settle for third.

I typed and fact checked all that between Pique's header and the half time whistle, and wasn't distracted by any significant action. After the break France came back a bit, and Spain were a bit sloppy at times. By the standards of Spain, that is, we're not talking about balls going through the keeper's legs, but it was enough to give the French hope.

Debuchy had a header on the hour mark, which he had to lean back to get onto and couldn't then keep down, but it was a chance. Soon after there was a goalmouth scramble at both ends. Which is two goalmouth scrambles all told, obviously, not just one very large one. That would be to stretch the definition of a goalmouth scramble to breaking point.

Apart from that there was little else to say. Not that it was boring, it just wasn't the kind of thrill-a-minute action we'd had with Germany and Greece. It was the football equivalent of a long bout of safety play in snooker. Plenty to admire, very skilful, but it isn't going to make the highlights reel. Except that football is limited by time rather than pots, so there may not be much else to put on it.

It was probably in an attempt to give their respective forward lines the cutting edge they lacked that Spain brought on Torres and France brought on Giroud. It didn't work. Torre's one decent shot was saved, and it turned out he was offside anyway. Giroud didn't even manage that. He's done alright for Montpellier, with 33 goals in 73 games, but we didn't see any evidence of that last night.

In the last minute of normal time Pedro won a penalty for Spain. Reveillere challenged him clumsily, there was contact, he went down, job done. Alonso scored, and that was the end for France. Reveillere was left to rue his role in both Spanish goals. I was going to say never mind lad, you'll learn, but it turns out he's 32, so probably won't.

And that was that. Spain and France meet again in October, when they play in the same qualifying group for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. It's an unlucky draw, which means one of them might miss out, but it might at least save us another game like this one.

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