Euro 2012: Spain 2-0 France - Xabi Alonso sees Spain through to semis
Spain midfielder Xabi Alonso insists that winning his 100th cap on Saturday night was an “extra” bonus. Far more important was scoring the two goals that helped his team knock out France and reach the semi-finals of Euro 2012.
The former Liverpool midfielder played a big part in ensuring the defending champions overcame Les Bleus 2-0 with a first-half header and a late penalty in Donetsk. Spain now meet Portugal in the last four on Wednesday.
“We’re through to the semi-finals, which was the main thing,” the Real Madrid player said. “We’re pleased about that. The 100 caps is just an extra.
“It’s in these matches that we have to show what we’re about. We controlled it from start to finish. The team made things easy.
“I was happy about my 100th game and the goals. We know every game is difficult now but we’re in the semi-finals and we’re going to give it everything.
“We controlled the match, though we knew it wouldn’t be easy against opponents that were defending deep. It became easier after the goal. It was a big quarter-final game and you have to know how to play them.”
It was an efficient and calm performance by world champions Spain, who started without a recognised striker before clinching their first competitive win over the French.
But it was a display which left most of the crowd at the Donbass Arena indifferent to its cautious pragmatism.
France coach Laurent Blanc’s tactics of playing two right-backs in a defensive line-up failed as Spanish left-back Jordi Alba skipped through to the goalline after 19 minutes and picked out an unmarked Alonso, who headed firmly home at the far post. The experienced midfielder coolly converted a penalty in stoppage time to give the defending champions the victory margin their dominance deserved.
France, who had won five and drawn one of the teams’ six previous competitive meetings, were spectators for long spells as Spain played their usual patient possession game without taking any risks. The only real French effort on goal in the first half was a 32nd-minute free kick by Yohan Cabaye which was curling into the top corner before Iker Casillas pushed it around the post.
France livened up after the break with Mathieu Debuchy heading just over after Franck Ribery had wriggled into space for a cross.
Blanc brought on attacking midfielders Samir Nasri and Jeremy Menez just after the hour as he sought a way back into the game, but they were unable to make any real impact against a solid Spanish defence.
Alonso’s second goal was a penalty in stoppage time after Pedro was tripped by Anthony Reveillere.
Spain are now unbeaten in 18 competitive games since their 1-0 defeat by Switzerland in the group stage of the 2010 World Cup and they have not conceded a goal in their last eight knockout games in tournaments.
But Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabregas knows Spain face a stiff test against Portugal. “Portugal will be very difficult,” he said. “They have strong individuals, strong players. Apart from their good open play, they are very good on the counter-attack, and we’ll have to work hard in that game. They have Ronaldo, Nani, Raul Meireles, Joao Moutinho. They have very good players.”
Fabregas was pleased with Spain’s performance against Blanc’s side, and with his own contribution.
“We played really well in the first half – actually one of the best first halves in the tournament,” said the former Arsenal captain, who led Spain’s attack with Fernando Torres starting on the bench.
“I played a bit better, but we were playing against France, who played very well. We are very happy now. I tried hard, and I ran a lot. I feel good. No matter what happens, the most important thing is that Spain won.”
Defender Sergio Ramos added: “This Spain team have taken a step forward. We showed what we’re about in this victory and we’re in the semi-finals now.
“We have to carry this on all the way to the final. We can’t rest on our laurels because every game is a final.
“Portugal have done really well to get to the semi-finals, so it will be difficult.”
Afterwards, Blanc remained tight-lipped on his future. “We’re out of the competition and we’re upset, so now is not the time to talk about staff and players,” he said. “We will analyse this Euro in the coming days. There will be some satisfaction and some disappointment, and you will find out what happens after.”
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