Spain united as French squabble

Spain united as French squabble

GNIEWINO, Poland - Reuters
Spain united as French squabble

Spanish supporters cheer after their team scored a goal against Italy in the group stage.

Spain must beat France in a competitive match for the first time if it is to reach the Euro 2012 semifinals and the latest French squabbling can only have boosted the defending champion’s chances of finally vanquishing Les Bleus in a major tournament.

Off-pitch quarrels among the French players led to an ignominious early exit from the 2010 World Cup and officials and players have admitted that fur was flying again after Tuesday’s 2-0 Group D loss to Sweden.

Spain, by contrast, has presented a typically upbeat and united front ahead of Saturday’s quarterfinal in Donetsk, the winners of which will meet Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal.

Of the six tournament meetings between Spain and France, the French have won five, including a 2-1 quarterfinal victory at Euro 2000 when Spain’s Raul missed a late penalty and a 3-1 success in a last-16 clash at the 2006 World Cup.

Raul’s successor at center forward Fernando Torres believes his team learned a lesson from the World Cup reverse that helped turn the team into world champion and said it was high time Spain ended its poor run against the French.

As well as Torres, goalkeepers Iker Casillas and Pepe Reina, midfielders Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Cesc Fabregas and Andres Iniesta and defender Sergio Ramos all survive from the squad for the France match in Hanover six years ago.

Defying predictions
“We hope that this time our experience will tip the balance in favor of Spain,” Torres said on his personal website on Thursday.

“It’s always a good time to end a negative streak and this national team is used to breaking records and defying predictions,” the 28-year-old added.

“We are hoping that France do not rediscover their best form but if they do we will be prepared. Today, Spain is very tough to beat when on top form.”

While Spain has a full squad available, France coach Laurent Blanc will have to do without the suspended Philippe Mexes and the inexperienced Laurent Koscielny will pair up with Adil Rami in central defense.

Blanc is expected to field Yohan Cabaye again in the midfield with Alou Diarra and Yann Mvila, with Karim Benzema and Franck Ribery playing with Jeremy Menez up front and Samir Nasri on the bench, at least at the start.

Real Madrid’s Benzema, who knows the Spanish players well from La Liga, told reporters after the Sweden game that one positive about Spain’s possession-based playing style was that there was usually plenty of space and France would be trying to exploit it.

“Spain will be the favorites, they are one of the best teams in the world,” he added.