Euro 2024 semis: Spain’s magic vs France’s reality | Football News - Hindustan Times
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Euro 2024 semis: Spain’s magic vs France’s reality

ByAshish Magotra
Jul 08, 2024 10:25 PM IST

La Roja have delighted fans with their brand of football but Les Bleus have the experience and can be ruthlessness

New Delhi: The first semi-final of Euro 2024 is a battle of ideologies – a France team that believes in a safety-first approach against a Spain team that believes in joy and flair. It is precisely this contrast that makes for such a tantalising match-up.

Spain midfielder Rodri at the team’s training base ahead of semi-final against France. (REUTERS)
Spain midfielder Rodri at the team’s training base ahead of semi-final against France. (REUTERS)

It doesn’t shock one that France have been boring, for that is how they have always been under Didier Deschamps. There is also no denying that it is a solid team that has kept four clean sheets in the five matches they have played. And while their style of play may not exactly please the senses, it works. Les Bleus are aiming for a fourth major tournament final in the last eight years (after reaching the Euro 2016 showpiece and the 2018 and 2022 World Cup finals). This kind of consistency is rare in international football.

Spain though know what it is like to be so good for so long. Between 2008 and 2012 they were playing the kind of football most sides could only dream of. It got them results as well. By winning Euro 2008, World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012, they had become the first men’s international team in history to win three major titles in a row. They were great until they weren’t.

The end of 2012 marked a departure from the norm. Coming into Euro 2024, Spain had won just seven matches at major international tournaments since winning Euro 2012. They were lacking quality and teams figured out tiki taka. However, by winning the 2023 Nations League Finals, Spain showed they have once again managed to put together a team of immense potential. It gave their fans hope.

And at Euro 2024, Spain haven’t disappointed. They are the only team to win all five of their games. They are also joint top in number of goals (11) and top on total attempts (102) and balls recovered (230), demonstrating how impressive they have been both going forward and defensively.

Leading the charge on the attacking front for Spain are wingers Nico Williams and Lamine Yamal. The former, 21, and the latter, at a mere 16, have shown no fear. Rather, they have been given free rein by their manager Luis de la Fuente and that has resulted in the kind of creativity that inspires magic.

But France are a team deeply rooted in reality; they are a team that knows how to ruthlessly snuff out the magic if need be. At the core of that policy is N’Golo Kante. The diminutive midfielder is everywhere his team needs him to be and when tasked with marking someone out of the game, he does that too. Against Belgium, Kante cut Kevin de Bruyne out of the game with a masterclass in man-marking.

“We all defend together, fight together and give everything for each other, which is the way it’s been since the beginning of the tournament. That’s the key to our success,” said France forward Randal Kolo Muani.

Rodri can perform a similar role for Spain but he has given his team more on the attacking front. However, if France get their attack in sync, the Man City player might have to do a lot more work on the defensive front.

The midfield battle will be crucial. Control the centre and you can control the game. Spain have many options going forward but they will need the supply to make the threat work. It will also prevent counters from a French team that can be thrillingly quick. Pedri’s injury could prove to be a setback here.

France have the players who produce daring and exciting plays for their clubs. They have pace too, which is why it is sometimes frustrating to watch them in action. But everyone, Spain and their fans included, knows that quality isn’t a problem for the Les Bleus. If they get into the mood, it just flows.

Kylian Mbappe needs but a moment to turn games around. The mask (to protect the broken nose suffered against Austria) has proved a hindrance but he has shown himself in the past to be a player who appreciates the big moments. Spain are also missing defenders Dani Carvajal and Robin Le Normand through suspension and that doesn’t make things easier.

“He’s one of those players who might not seem involved in a move but ends up making the difference,” said Spain defender Marc Cucurella. “It will be difficult, but we are a strong, solid team. If we work together, we can defeat France.”

Muani and France aren’t perturbed at all though. Spain are good, but France’s solidity is inspiring confidence in their team too.

“Spain are a very good team; it is going to be a very good match,” said Muani. “We’ll be ready; the whole team will be ready. We’re not scared of anyone; we are very confident and solid. We know that they have qualities but we are a very close-knit group. That will see us through.”

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