Del Bosque spoiled for choice
EURO 2012 QUARTER-FINAL SPAIN v FRANCE:APART FROM deciding who to leave out for his side’s biggest games, the prospect of his silky Spanish side becoming complacent must be the biggest worry on Vicente Del Bosque’s mind in advance of fixtures like this evening’s with France in Donetsk.
Dispelling the notion that the tournament’s third quarter-final is something of a foregone conclusion certainly seemed to be his priority last night. The 61-year-old joined a couple of the French players in noting the fact that the Spanish – whose last defeat at a tournament was against this evening’s opponents in 2006 – have never beaten their rivals in a competitive game.
“Everyone thinks we’re favourites because we won the Euro four years ago and the World Cup two years ago, but there is evidence that France are better in competitive matches,” he claimed, just a little unconvincingly. “We’ll have to see tomorrow if we can change history.”
The Spanish coach is likely to start with the same line-up that began the 4-0 defeat of the Republic of Ireland. But he will be acutely aware that five players, including Torres, Alonso and both first-choice full-backs are a booking away from suspension until the amnesty that kicks in after this round. And while he admits that his players have not excelled in either of their other two games, Del Bosque feels that some of the criticism aimed at him, and them, has been a exaggerated given that the defence of the title remains firmly on course.
“I just want to look forward to the future,” he said. “We gave all our energy in the Croatia match. Now we have another chance to show our emotion and enthusiasm. We want to compete and so far we’ve been very competitive, but these things are never predictable and I hope we can show our consistency.”
France manager Laurent Blanc, whose players have had a day less to rest than their opponents, is likely to make changes to the side that lost so tamely to Sweden. Blanc needs to restore confidence and unity in the wake of a result that assistant Alain Boghossian described as “a staggering blow”.
Quite what he will choose to do, though, seems to be up for grabs. The coach has to decide whether to revert to the more experienced side that performed well against, but ultimately could not beat, England or reshape midfield where he has yet to start the same five players at these championships.
Whether to recall Florent Malouda is another one of the bigger decisions is one of the bigger decisions he must make. The Chelsea winger is a solid worker on the defensive side of things, but is unlikely to have pleased all of his team-mates, especially Samir Nasri, with his comments in the aftermath of the Kiev game.
Omitting Nasri seems unlikely but if Hatem Ben Arfa is dropped to the bench then the Manchester City player is likely to return to the more advanced role of flanking Karim Benzema which would at least mean that not quite as much would be required of him in terms of tracking back. If that happens then PSG’s Jeremy Menez will miss out again although Blanc could create vacancies elsewhere across the middle with Yohan Cabaye one of those best placed to benefit in the event of a shake-up.
One change that Blanc must make is at centre-back, where Philippe Mexes is suspended so Laurent Koscielny will almost certainly get his start at these finals.
The shape of the side is expected to be the same. Karim Benzema is likely retain his place as the team’s lone striker as viable alternatives to the Real Madrid man, who the French could do with having a big game, are scarce.
Having watched Spain’s three group games, the French coach says Croatia provided the strongest pointers on how to take on the champions (clearly, it’s no great surprise that he didn’t feel it had been Ireland). “Every time they had a chance, they really went for,” he says, “and I think that’s what we’re going to have to do”.
There will be, you would hope, some finer detail when he talks to his players and, perhaps, a Plan B too. Afterall, his role models failed to score, lost the game and went home immediately afterwards.