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Wileman: Spain puts on clinic in defeating France

Luke Wileman
6/23/2012 5:34:51 PM
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Three semifinalists are set, with one more to come on Sunday as the quarterfinal round at UEFA EURO 2012 comes to a close.

Spain booked a semifinal against Portugal by winning 2-0 against France in Donetsk on Saturday and it was another master-class in possession from the World and European Champions. They are a joy to watch as top quality players link up in stunning fashion. At some times, it seems like they are the only team on the pitch.

Spain reverted back to the same lineup that started their opening match of the tournament against Italy, with Cesc Fabregas coming back into the eleven in place of Fernando Torres. It left the Spaniards without a recognized central striker and showed their intent to play keep-ball and dominate large periods of the match while waiting for their chance to score.

In their final group match against Croatia, it took Spain 88 minutes to get their goal, but they found a much earlier breakthrough against France. Xabi Alonso's goal in the 19th minute was a great moment for him on his 100th appearance for his country, but the way France allowed him to run in unchallenged was criminal.

My broadcast partner Jason de Vos did a great job of breaking the play down during his half-time analysis, highlighting how far Alonso was allowed to run unchallenged. The most alarming part of the goal from a French point of view was the total lack of interest from Chelsea midfielder Florent Malouda.

Malouda allowed Alonso to run past him and go a further 20 yards into the penalty area, and he didn't even try to track the run. Malouda stayed at walking pace throughout the move, and just watched on as Alonso headed Spain into the lead. That's unacceptable at any level of the game, let alone on the international stage.

France set their team up defensively and managed to deny Spain many chance throughout the 90 minutes. They stayed in the match until the death when Alonso added a second goal from the penalty spot, but Spain looked comfortable for much of the match denying France possession. When chances did come the way of the French they failed to take them.

Germany March On

Germany ran out comfortable winners despite a brave effort from Greece. It was an attacking performance from Germany that showcased the incredible quality they have going forward.

The win was Germany's fourth of EURO 2012. In becoming the only team at the tournament to win all three group games, they looked solid rather than spectacular. However against Greece, they showed an attacking flair that should worry defences of the other teams still in the tournament.

The most impressive thing about Germany's win was the fact that head coach Joachim Loew was able to make changes to his side and not lose any effectiveness. In fact, the players that came in made an extremely positive impact for the Germans and will provide Loew with some selection headaches ahead of their semifinal against either England or Italy.

Those changes include leaving out Mario Gomez, who had scored three goals during the Group Stage. Marco Reus and Miroslav Klose both came into the team and scored goals, while Andre Schurrle was probably the least effective of the three attacking players brought in.

I was talking to a coach from one of Canada's Major League Soccer teams following the Germany match and he said "the depth of the bench decides how strong the starting eleven is." That certainly rings true for this Germany team who remain my pick to win the tournament.

Portugal's Shining Star

The side that played to win the game, got what they deserved. Portugal came out with an attacking intent as the Czech Republic sat back and asked their opponents to try and break them down. For 79 minutes, that plan worked for the Czechs, but then Cristiano Ronaldo once again proved the difference-maker, heading in the winning goal.

Ronaldo was a leader once again for his country. He stood up and lifted his team on his shoulders when it mattered most in the Group Stage against the Netherlands and was there to be relied upon in the quarterfinal.

Ronaldo's headed goal was exquisite, not because of the finish, but because of the movement from the Real Madrid man to get into a goal-scoring position. Portugal are much more than a one-man team, but having Ronaldo in this sort of form gives them a legitimate chance to progress further.

Luke Wileman

Luke Wileman


Luke Wileman is an analyst for TSN's soccer coverage and his blog can be read on TSN.ca.

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