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Blanc's defensive tactics backfire
by Paul Kennedy, June 23rd, 2012 5:15PM

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TAGS:  european championship, france, spain

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[SPAIN-FRANCE] French coach Laurent Blanc adopted a defensive approach to try to stop defending champion Spain, and his tactics backfired as Spanish attacks down its left side, where the Bleus added a second defender, produced both goals in a 2-0 win on Saturday that sent the Spaniards into Thursday's semifinals.

Xabi Alonso celebrated his 100th cap with a goal in each half, the first on an open header and the second from the penalty spot.

"We knew this was the most important match and we played very well," Alonso said. "Scoring the early goal really made things easy, so I must say we're happy."

Blanc's strategy was to field two right backs with Mathieu Debuchy playing in front of Anthony Reveillere to neutralize the threat of Andres Iniesta and Jordi Alba, but the two Spaniards teamed up to set up the first goal.

Alba broke free on the left wing and whipped a cross to Alonso, who scored on a header with no defender in sight. As stoppage time came, Reveillere knocked down Pedro for a penalty kick Alonso converted.

Spain had never defeated France in six competitive matches, but it was the overwhelming favorite against the Bleus.

Blanc, who dropped star Samir Nasri in favor of Debuchy, said the plan was to contain the Spaniards until the half and attack them in the second half.

"The only thing I regret is that they scored off their first chance," Blanc said. "If we had gone in 0-0 at halftime, I think we would have had more room in the second half."

He acknowledged that the French strategy was to neutralize Iniesta and Alba.

"We had analyzed the Spanish lineup well because they had two very strong players on the left," the French coach said, "but what is the most frustrating thing is that we conceded the goal from that side."

For the first time in the tournament, Spain had less than 60 percent of the ball.  The French managed to stay in the game, limiting the Spaniards to nine shots, but the Bleus only managed four of their own.

June 23 in Donetsk
Spain 2 France 0. Goals: Xabi Alonso 19, (pen.) 90.
Spain -- Casillas, Arbeloa, Pique, Sergio Ramos, Jordi Alba, Xavi, Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso, Silva (Pedro, 65), Iniesta (Santi Cazorla, 84), Fabregas (Fernando Torres, 67).
France -- Lloris, Reveillere, Rami, Koscielny, Clichy, Debuchy (Menez, 65), Cabaye, M'Vila (Giroud, 79), Malouda (Nasri, 65), Ribery, Benzema.



10 comments
  1. Ramon Creager
    commented on: June 23, 2012 at 9:07 p.m.
    Did his tactics backfire, or did France fail despite them? We'll never know. I do believe that those who think that all it takes is to play your normal game against Spain and they'll crumble are deluded. Every one of their opponents has changed their game plan for them and only them. Spain is the only team that commands this kind of respect. It's for a reason. Someone is bound to think they don't need to; Germany perhaps. We'll see.

  1. Kenneth Barr
    commented on: June 24, 2012 at 8:03 a.m.
    Spain scored on their first chance? They had at least three before the goal. Once again, a manager has outsmarted himself by thinking he can control play once the whistle blows. How about letting your players play! Once Jose the not so special one tried that, Real beat Barca and at the Camp Nou no less.

  1. David V
    commented on: June 24, 2012 at 11:07 a.m.
    This Spain team is not of the quality it has pre-WC, yes pre-WC is what I said. The team peaked, in terms of quality around mid 2008 and mid 2009 (when they lost to the US on a fluke game). They only won the WC because they were so far ahead of the world in 2008 and 2009 and as they dropped in quality, by the time June 2010 hit, they were still slightly above the quality of the other top teams, and so they won it. The business about a series of 1-0 victories has nothing to do with the Spanish philosophy of attack, it isn't that they aren't entertaining, it's that the other teams hunker down with 11 men goal side of the ball. Before this strategy, the Spaniards scored plenty of goals, but when everyone is gunning for you, it's very difficult. It's remarkable that they have continued with this success while they are in the middle of the cross-hairs. Germany is the 2nd best side in the world, (Portugal could have an argument here if success for them comes). If other teams figured out that they should hunker down against Germany, there wouldn't be so many goals from the Germans. Interesting notes about Jordi and Andres... when it's all said and done (and I could tell this 2 years ago as Spain were looking for a replacement at left back for Joan Capdevila), Jordi will be one of the top wing-backs in history. Now, can you imagine how much better Spain would be, if their best defender (who always shuts down Ronaldo, both in La Liga, Champions League, and in national team play), Carles Puyol was not injured... plus, that would allow Sergio Ramos to be almost as threatening, on the right side, as Jordi is on the left. And can you imagine, if the world's most prolific goal scorer from 2006-2010, and Spain's all-time goal scorer, Scoring leader in 2008 qualifying, top scorer in 2008 Euro, top scorer in WC qualifying, top scorer (tied) in WC, and top scorer in qualifying for Euro 2012 (David Villa) had been able to recover from his broken leg to make the tournament? Wow! Whether they can win 3 major tournaments in a row (I expect they have a 50/50 chance of it, I won't be surprise if they win it all or if they get knocked out in the next game), they are one of the best teams in football, in history (even the great Pelé has conceded this Spain squad (2006-2012) is the equal of the long-recognized best team ever, Brazil '70. The Wall Street Journal just ran an article about them being the best team ever, not just in soccer, but in all sport... it's a great ad for Soccer here in the states for guys like WSJ and ESPN even talking about it ("Is Spain's 'La Roja' The Greatest Team Ever? ") Go Spain!

  1. I w Nowozeniuk
    commented on: June 24, 2012 at 1:14 p.m.
    Les Bleus were too lax from the MF to the back...the MF, and in particular Malouda, were too lazy to respect the Spanish movement from the back; so they paid the price from blind side runs which the Spanish do very well. The tactic should have been conatainment knowing that shots on goal from distance is not much employed. Bottom line is that Les Bleus were never in a comfort zone and hardly made anything happen.

  1. Kent James
    commented on: June 24, 2012 at 2:43 p.m.
    While it may be "smarter" for teams to hunker down against the Spanish attack, I think even if they lost, even French fans would have liked to see a more offensive minded game. I love the Spanish, and this is clearly one of the best teams ever, but the French have some offensive power as well, and I think they'd have as much of a chance of winning (granted, not a high chance) by trying to aggressively attack the Spanish as they would hunkering down, and the game would be more open and then, if the French lost, they would have at least been able to hold their heads high as say "we took them on" rather than avoided them. I'm still hopeful that Portugal will give that strategy a try....

  1. Daniel Clifton
    commented on: June 24, 2012 at 6:33 p.m.
    I think part of the problem in watching these games involving Spain is that the teams playing them are constantly chasing the ball. When Spain loses the ball they usually win it back quickly. The other teams is constantly playing without the ball, which means they are forced to play defensively, whether they want to or not. Once the other team gets the ball they have to take care of it because the Spanish players win the ball back so quickly. I think alot of this defensive play can be chalked up to how difficult it is to play Spain. It will be interesting to see how Portugal does.

  1. Herve Gauthier
    commented on: June 25, 2012 at 3:31 a.m.
    When Spain scored the second goal, there were only one right back.

  1. Carlos Thys
    commented on: June 25, 2012 at 6:53 a.m.
    Germany will play an attack-minded game agains the Spanish. There won't be any cowering or any lopsided 60 - 40 ball handling percentages. The French just looked and were truly very poor. I agree with David above, this Spanish side is well beyond its zenith. I positively love Xavi for his skills, calm, unpreturbed demeanor, and playmaking. But there's no hiding that he's slow. And that already opens lots of possibilities for an opponent. Cesc Fabregas is still not the fabulous fellow he was not so long ago in October/November 2011, Fernando Torres is hardly a consistent threat to anything or anyone. A smart guy like Laurent Blanc should have known how to equip his players to really give Spain a test. Now, as to whether the players abided by any of his warnings or encouragements is an entirely different matter. Benzema, Ribery, Nasri (when he came on), Menez, and new new Arsenal man Giroud all flopped. For me, Spain is ripe to be picked apart. He's obviously good, but LB Jordi Alba is also a real weakness that just cries to be exploited. I had really hoped for a hotly contested match with the neighboring French desperately working to show that they are capable of being the better masters of this game. No, no. The French looked like a bunch of individuals who just got acquainted about 30 minutes prior to kickoff. Spain will beat Portugal with not too much trouble. So it is up to the Germans to show that one need not at all fear -- the present day -- Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas, Xavi Alonso, Arbeloa, Busquets, Pique, Ramos, and (a very fragile and unconvincing) David Silva. I believe that the Germans will do just this very thing.

  1. Robert Heinrich
    commented on: June 25, 2012 at 11:06 a.m.
    I take the view that Spain is not past their peak until they are beaten in a major competition. As for Xavi being slow, of course he's 32 now. However, I recall Brazil's coach, Luiz Scolari, at a press conference prior to the quarterfinal match with England at the '02 WC being asked if he was worried about England's speed. He deadpanned "Nobody runs faster than the ball." That is the problem for Spain's opponents. Spain has been very good for the game and I think over the next few years we will see an increased emphasis on technical skill in the game: defending with the ball. I'm excited!

  1. David V
    commented on: June 25, 2012 at 12:53 p.m.
    silly, silly comments... Spain are past their prime, that doesn't mean they are below the competition, that remains to be seen, but they are not as good as they were.. Comments on Xavi and being slow... the best player in the world (according to Johann Cruyff) and in the top 3 world players of the year the past several years... are you kidding me, Spain rode this guy to Euro 2008, and WC 2010 (along with Villa's goals)... you tell Schweine, Khedira, and Ozil that Xavi is slow... tell that to Schiejder and all the other teams Spain ripped apart over the past 6 years... and by the way, the Germans tried the same survival tactics in 2008 and 2010 that you lament... Yes, Spain have reached and past their peak, but Germans were just as afraid of them as the Dutch were in the final in 2010 (let's Kung Fu kick the Spaniards... after Cruyff told that to Van Marwijk (that "you can't beat Spain, even if you try to do what Milan got lucky with against Barca that year), that's the only thing they have left So the era may be coming to an end for the greatest football team ever (Spain 2006-2012), but they still have a 50/50 chance of getting the first treble in major tournaments... don't miss the greatness of these players (this is Xavi's swang song, and unfortunately, through injury it may be Puyol's and Villa's as well)


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