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Spain, France meet for spot in UEFA Euro 2024 final on TSN


As thrilling as Spain’s last-gasp win over hosts Germany was in the UEFA Euro 2024 quarter-finals, it came with a cost.

Real Sociedad’s Mikel Merino sent La Roja into the final four for the fourth time in the past five Euros with a 119th-minute header past Manuel Neuer for a 2-1 victory just as it seemed the two sides were destined for penalties.

But as the jubilation has died down in the aftermath of the win and the enormity of the task at hand – a date with France – has set in, manager Luis de la Fuente has some major decisions to make with his starting XI. Gone from his lineup will be two key contributors.

You can catch Spain vs. France LIVE at UEFA Euro 2024 from Munich with coverage getting underway at 2pm et/11am pt on TSN1/4, and the TSN App.

In the 29th minute, Sociedad’s Robin Le Normand’s hard challenge on Ilkay Gundogan was enough to earn him a booking. The card meant that the centre-back will be suspended for the semis date. He will be joined on the bench by Dani Carvajal, who was sent off late in the Germany match for a professional foul on Jamal Musiala that earned him a second booking. Nacho came in as a substitute for Le Normand at halftime and will likely replace him in the starting lineup against Les Bleus. More interesting than that, though, is who is in line to take the place of Carvajal.

There is only one man who was on Spain’s World Cup-winning team of 2010 in Germany right now. In 2010, Jesus Navas was a 24-year-old Sevilla winger who helped La Roja win its first ever World Cup. In 2024, Navas is still on Sevilla, having had a four-season sojourn at Manchester City from 2013 to 2017, but is now a 38-year-old right-back. Converted to the position by Pep Guardiola at City, it will be Navas who steps in for Carvajal.

"There were players injured and [Guardiola] asked me if I could play there," Navas said of the positional change in 2019.  "I told him that I could do it without a problem because when I played with Dani Alves [at Sevilla], he used to attack a lot, so I normally covered him in the defence. I did not have any problem doing it. Everything went well."

It will be Navas, then, who will be tasked to handle Kylian Mbappé. Perhaps the fastest man in world football on his day, a matchup with a man 14 years his senior seems like a mismatch on paper, but it might not be in practice.

Since breaking his nose in France’s opener against Austria and forced to wear a mask to protect his face, Mbappé has noticeably been not at his best. He is clearly struggling with the mask. It’s impaired his vision to an extent and it’s hindering his breathing. Taking a Bernardo Silva ball directly to the head in Les Bleus’ 0-0 (5-3 on penalties) victory over Portugal in the quarters certainly did not help matters for Mbappé, either.

While the mask might help explain away Mbappé’s struggles, the rest of the France attack doesn’t have an excuse. In 480 minutes of action, Les Bleus don’t have a goal from open play, which beggars belief when you consider the amount of talent the team has on offer. One of France’s stars who has struggled mightily is Atletico talisman Antoine Griezmann. Griezmann’s place in Didier Deschamps’ starting XI is believed to be under threat, but teammate Adrien Rabiot still expects the World Cup winner to come good.

"We know exactly what Antoine is capable of,” Rabiot, who is available to play against Spain after serving a one-match booking accumulation ban against Portugal, said. “We have expectations when it comes to Antoine. We're a high-level team. The coach has had to make choices and up until now, everything's gone well. Let's hope it continues this way."

Though Les Bleus have laboured offensively, their defending has been stout. The lone goal surrendered by the team through five matches was a Robert Lewandowski penalty in a 1-1 draw against Poland in the group stage. Paris Saint-Germain forward Randal Kolo Muani credits a team spirit for the France’s ability to close the door on its opposition.

“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,” Kolo Muani said. “That's the key to our success.”

But Rabiot says Spain will be his team’s biggest test yet.

"They've played the best football at the tournament,” the Juventus midfielder said. “They have great wingers and can penetrate the final third. They also know how to score goals. They're a very complete team who have their strengths, but they probably have their weaknesses, too. We're confident and know what we have to do."

Wing play will be of particular concern to Les Bleus. In the Portugal match, Rafael Leao was able to give Jules Koundé fits at times, but the Selecao couldn’t manage to do anything with the chances created. With the likes of Nico Jackson and Lamine Yamal marauding down the flanks for La Roja, full-backs Koundé and Théo Hernandez will have their hands full.

"He's a player who deals with pressure very well,” Rabiot said of 16-year-old Barcelona wunderkind Yamal, who leads the tournament with three assists. “He's capable of playing for his club and in tournaments such as this. We know what he can do. He's capable of keeping a cool head. It'll be up to us to put pressure on him and put him out of his comfort zone."

On the other side, it will be the overlap of Williams and Chelsea’s Marc Cucurella looking to make trouble for France down the left.

“We had an immediate connection,” former Brighton left-back Cucurella said of the duo’s chemistry. “We practically don't talk about football off the pitch at all. Nico's a happy-go-lucky guy and so am I, so our personalities clicked – it's happened without us trying. During matches, I tell him to do as he pleases because, with these top players who have bags of talent, it's important that they feel at ease.”

France and Spain have had a fairly even rivalry over the years with La Roja holding a 16-7-3 edge, but in major tournaments, Les Bleus have been superior.

In the final of Euro 1984 in Paris, goals from Michel Platini and Bruno Bellone gave France a 2-0 victory over Spain to capture the country’s first major trophy. Eight years later in Leeds at Euro 1996, the two teams played to a 1-1 draw in the group stage when Caminero’s 85th-minute goal cancelled out a Youri Djorkaeff strike from earlier in the second half. Champions at Euro 2000, France advanced to the semis on the back of a 2-1 win over Spain in the quarters from Bruges. After Zinedine Zidane opened the scoring in the 32nd, La Roja quickly answered back through a Gaizka Mendieta penalty only five minutes later before a Djorkaeff marker just before the half earned the victory.

The last time these two sides met in a match of importance was the 2021 UEFA Nations League final from the San Siro in Milan. Sociedad’s Mikel Oyarzabal put Spain ahead in the 64th, but it was a lead that would not last. Just two minutes later, Karim Benzema pulled Les Bleus and then Mbappé won the match for France with a goal in the 80th to make it 2-1. Six players from that match could feature for Spain on Tuesday, while seven are available for France.

The winners of Tuesday’s match from Munich will move on to Sunday’s final in Berlin to take on the victors of Wednesday’s semifinal between England and the Netherlands.

POTENTIAL SPAIN XI (4-3-3): Unai Simon; Jesus Navas, Nacho, Aymeric Laporte, Marc Cucurella; Dani Olmo, Rodri, Fabian Ruiz; Lamine Yamal, Alvaro Morata, Nico Williams

POTENTIAL FRANCE XI (4-4-2): Mike Maignan; Jules Koundé, William Saliba, Dayot Upamecano, Théo Hernandez; N'Golo Kanté, Aurélien Tchouaméni, Adrien Rabiot, Ousmane Dembélé; Randal Kolo Muani, Kylian Mbappé