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23 June 2012
• Donbass Arena, Donets'k
Referee: N. Rizzoli
• Attendance: 47000
Xabi Alonso 19', 90'+
And that's it from me guys, thanks for joining me for Goal.com's LIVE coverage of this evening's quarter-final between Spain and France. Spain were the victors, as France put in a fairly dismal performance in Donetsk. Next up for Del Bosque's side, Portugal and a certain Mr. Ronaldo. I can't wait! Goodnight!
France Expert, Robin Bairner, has sent us his thoughts too, unsurprisingly, he's not impressed with Blanc's decision-making. "France will be thoroughly disappointed that they failed to stretch Spain. There can be little doubt that Les Bleus have it in them to at least be a competitive force against such opposition, but their performance was tame, lacking in both belief and direction. They now face significant questions in the near future. Blanc has not yet revealed whether he will stay or go, although his stock is sure to have fallen after this disorganised showing, and with the World Cup qualifying campaign, and two more matches against Spain, just around the corner, France again approach a period of uncertainty."
And now for the eloquent thoughts of our Spain Expert, Ben Hayward, "Nice night for Xabi Alonso. Two goals, his 14th and 15th for Spain, and a 100th cap for the Basque midfielder. It couldn't have been much better. Spain are in the semi-finals and a mouthwatering meeting with Cristiano Ronaldo awaits. If Portugal learned anything from tonight, it will be to not play like France. Benzema needed to show up - and he didn't. Nor did his team-mates. Spain don't score many, but they are still on target for a third major tournament in a row. Can anyone beat them?" Ronaldo 10 will give it a go in the semi-final!
The final whistle is met by a surprising announcement over the tannoy at the Donbass Arena. Martin Langer tells us, "The stadium announcer says in Spanish, that there are tickets left for the semi-finals, and that they can be bought in the stadium itself and some other places in town. Apparently, the demand hadn't been very high so far."
FULL-TIME: SPAIN 2-0 FRANCE. Vicente Del Bosque's side eased into the semi-final with a comfortable 2-0 victory over France, as Laurent Blanc's side exited the tournament with a whimper. They barely troubled Iker Casillas in the Spain goal, and can have no complaints about the final scoreline. Xabi Alonso marked his 100th appearance in style, thumping home a header in the first half to give his side the lead, before converting a late penalty to secure his side's win.
90' + 4'
The referee blows the final whistle, Spain have cruised through here in Donetsk, 2-0 the scoreline.
90' + 3'
A wonderful update from Martin Langer at the Donbass Arena, ""Jump, Guignols, jump!!", the Spanish fans celebrate their team's victory by dedicating it to the French TV show that has stirred the controversy between the two nations once and again by accusing the Spanish top athlets of doping." I LOVE THAT!
90' + 2'
The Spain fans have suddenly found their voices, and are chanting "Oleeeee! Oleeee!" every time their side complete a pass.
90' + 1'
90' + 1'
Penalty Goal Xabi Alonso
AND HE SCORES!! HIS SECOND OF THE GAME!! Alonso dispatches the spot kick confidently past Hugo Lloris in the France goal. The goalkeeper dived to his left, and Alonso's firm effort flew to his right. What a way to celebrate his 100th appearance for La Roja! A brace of goals!
PENALTY TO SPAIN!! Pedro dances past Rami before being clipped by the outstretched leg of Reveillere. Xabi Alonso is set to take it...
Ben Hayward has fired over his thoughts, "Fireworks light up the night sky in Barcelona as the city celebrates Sant Joan, but there are few fireworks now in this match and France, incredibly, are still in it. Fernando Torres looked level as he went through on goal moments ago but was adjudged offside. "What a shame," the commentators complained on Telecinco. It would have been, had he scored it. But he didn't - and there is the feeling that Spain are still winning within themselves."
Very little, is the answer to that. That was a disappointing cross from Nasri, there was no pace on the pass whatsoever.
BUT THEY DO HAVE A CORNER LATE ON HERE!! They've got some big boys in the box in the form of Giroud and Rami. Let's see what Nasri can produce from the set piece.
France lost their 23-match unbeaten run when they suffered a 2-0 reverse against Sweden in their final group game of this European Championship, and they are set to lose another one here. Blanc's team have fired Blancs at this tournament, scoring a measly three goals!
MATCH STAT: In their last 13 matches at major tournaments (Euro & World Cup) Spain have kept 10 clean sheets and conceded only three goals. It looks like they might stretch that to 11 clean sheets in 14.
HERE COMES SANTI CAZORLA!! Now he is an exciting player. Iniesta makes way.
I thought the introduction of Pedro and Torres, more the former than the latter if I'm being honest, would spark Spain into life, but it really hasn't. They have continued to look satisfied with their one goal and have barely threatened Lloris' goal in the second half. No doubt they will storm forward and score now...
Robin Bairner gives his thoughts on Blanc's last throw of the dice. "Blanc plays his final card, and he risks everything with it. Off comes midfield anchor M'Vila, and on comes Giroud. This is all or nothing for France now."
TORRES IS FLAGGED OFFSIDE!! Pedro plays the Chelsea man in with a nicely-weighted pass from the left but the official on the near side has raised his flag to signal that he is offside. I'm not sure about that one to be honest, he looked like he was at least level with the centre-back Adil Rami.
Spain have been quite since the break and it appears their fans are attempting to stir them into life. Martin Langer reports, "The Spanish fans try to go out of their slumber by chanting an enthusiastic "Lolololo, España, España", but their energy doesn't last long, their team is decided to kill the match with pass after pass and the whole crowd seems to be in a cathatonic state at the moment."
Olivier Giroud looks set to be introduced for France, as Laurent Blanc has just 12 minutes plus stoppage time to turn this match round. Yann M'Vila is the man making way for Giroud, that is a very attacking substitution for France.
Yellow Card Jérémy Menez
And now our Deputy France Expert, Mohammed Ali, is getting involved, "A little bit of a role reversal now. France are dominating possession increasingly, and they're probing at the Spanish defence. Around the box they are still lacking the necessary guile to break down the red-clad ranks, though."
Menez has been booked just minutes after coming on, and that yellow card means he misses the semi-final should France get there. He's slightly unlucky as he stumbles into Alba rather than deliberately fouling him, but the referee deems it worthy of a booking.
He is also the only goalkeeper to have kept two clean sheets at this tournament, and now he is on course for his third!
Following that Casillas stop in seems like a good time to mention this stat. Casillas has the best save percentage of all regular keepers at Euro 2012 so far (90.91%).
Robin Bairner gives us his thoughts on Blanc's substitutions, "On Tuesday, as France went down to Sweden, Blanc received much criticism for being too slow to make his subs. He's learned his lesson for this match, adopting a more attacking stance with 25 minutes to go. Menez, in particular, is built for matches like this, though his form is notoriously unpredictable."
SAFE HANDS FROM CASILLAS!! M'Vila sprays a delightful pass to Ribery in space on the left, but the Bayern Munich attacker produces a heavy touch inside the area and the ball appears to be running out of play before he manages to stretch and hammer a low cross towards Benzema. Casillas shows a calm head to block the cross and fall on the ball to relieve the pressure on his side.
Fabregas chips a fine ball over the top of Reveillere, (think his pass to Iniesta for Spain's goal against Croatia), that Pedro races on to before flicking a cross towards Torres at the far post. Rami again predicts the pass though, and is in the right place to hook the ball away.
Menez gets his first touch of the game, and it's not a good one... He loses it cheaply to Jordi Alba on the right and then fouls the Valencia full-back. Free-kick to Spain.
The game has lost its flow in the last few minutes as both sides make substitutions. And lo' and behold, Spain are making another change: Fernando Torres is coming on, with Cesc Fabregas making way for the Chelsea striker.
Vicente Del Bosque has also decided to make a change, as Pedro is introduced at David Silva's expense.
Menez replaces Debuchy on the right, with Malouda coming off for Nasri, as France go for broke here.
It looks like Laurent Blanc is going to make changes here, with Spain still in the lead. Jeremy Menez and Samir Nasri are ready and waiting on the sidelines next to the fourth official.
Goal.com's France Expert, Robin Bairner, has been in touch once more, "France are definitely showing more purpose since the start of the second half. There is a little more vim about their play, with Ribery becoming increasingly involved. Finally there is some kind of test to the Spain defence, which suddenly looks a little flustered."
GOOD GOALKEEPING FROM LLORIS!! The French stopper rushes from his line to steal the ball away from Fabregas on the edge of the area after the Barcelona attacker had set off on a decent run.
DEBUCHY HEADS OVER!! Ribery bamboozles his way past Arbeloa on the left with a quick shimmy, before hanging a cross up in the air that Debuchy does well to get on the end of under pressure from Ramos, but his header flies just over Casillas' crossbar.
Cesc Fabregas races down the right before sending a cross towards Iniesta at the back post, but Adil Rami is alert to the danger and steps in front of the Spain attacker to clear the ball upfield to safety.
Ribery's set piece is too long though, and Jordi Alba casually picks up possession at the back post before striding out of the Spain penalty area.
France are looking far more lively in this second half, and are keeping hold of the ball much better than they did in the opening 45 minutes. Benzema wins a corner on the left on this occasion, after hassling Pique.
And we have another update from our Spain Expert, Ben Hayward, too: "Pedro is one of the substitutes warming up for Spain and as France commit more men later in the game, he could be just the man to exploit the spaces left behind the Bleus' back line. In the meantime, however, Sergio Ramos is forced into some defensive work but shows he is fully concentrated despite a quiet first half. Such solidity is imperative for Spain, especially with the scoreline as it is."
Robin Bairner's perked up a bit, "France have shown hints that they may just have the ability to get back into the game. Twice in the opening seven minutes of the second half they find themselves in promising areas down the right, and though the moves are eventually snubbed out with little danger, there has at least been some promise. The directness of Menez is still required, though, while defensively Les Bleus still look frail."
Debuchy has got forward more in the first eight minutes of this second half than he did in the entire 45 minutes of the first half. He does well to chase down a loose ball on the right, but then gives away a weak free-kick after catching Jordi Alba.
THAT'S A VERY GOOD CHALLENGE FROM RAMOS!! Benzema slides a neat pass through to Ribery on the right-hand side of the penalty area but Ramos reads the play superbly to sidle across and nick the ball off him.
I wonder how long Laurent Blanc will keep things as they are. France just haven't troubled Spain this evening, that Cabaye free-kick aside. Surely the France coach needs to change things, either tactics and/or personnel.
France's two right-backs combine for the first time this evening, before Benzema shows off his own ball-juggling skills out on the wing. Debuchy eventually cuts inside and looks to move into the Spain penalty area but overruns the ball and loses possession to Ramos before then fouling the Spain centre-back.
Alonso and Fabregas play a game of head tennis between themselves in the centre circle as France continue to struggle to get possession of the football.
Silly foul from Benzema. The striker barges into the back of Arbeloa in front of the technical areas after losing possession to his Real Madrid team-mate.
Spain get us back underway here in Donetsk...
STATS YOU SAY? Okay. SHOTS: Spain 9-2 France. PASSING ACCURACY: Spain 90.8%-80.9% France. And this is a very revealing statistic now... PASSING ACCURACY IN THE OPPOSITION HALF: Spain 88.5%-65.6% France.
Make sure you make the most of our shiny new Match Centre by sending me your thoughts and views on that first half by dropping your comments into the box to the right of this LIVE commentary. Who's been your man of the match so far? I vote that man Jordi Alba.
I think Jordi Alba in particular has been brilliant this evening, he's been bombing up and down that left flank despite France playing two right-backs in Reveillere and Debuchy. His cross for Alonso's goal was a thing of beauty too, perfectly-weighted.
Apparently Arsene Wenger has reiterated that he does not believe Spain are at their best. I don't know about you guys, but I think maybe he's watching a re-run of the Croatia game rather than the match that's live tonight. Spain are absolutely dominating proceedings from where I'm sitting! My colleague Martin Langer also takes exception with Wenger's comments, "Trying to discover were good ol' Arsène keeps his magic flask. The first 30 minutes have been the best I've seen from Spain in an international competition."
And now our France Expert, Robin Bairner, weighs in with his views on the opening 45 minutes. "Big questions for Laurent Blanc to answer at half time. His unpredictable team selection has produced a predictable outcome, and unfortunately for the France coach, that’s equated to disaster for his side. In truth, they’re lucky to still be within one goal of the world champions, who look very comfortable at the moment. At some point France will have to open up, but that brings risks of its own, allowing Spain the kind of space upon which they thrive on. Few would bet on Les Bleus maintaining their unbeaten tournament record against Spain now."
Some thoughts on that first half from our Spain Expert, Ben Hayward, "Xabi Alonso is Spain's number 14 and his header to put Spain in front after 19 minutes was his 14th international goal on what is his 100th appearance for La Roja. At the moment it separates the two teams following a first half almost entirely dominated by Vicente del Bosque's side. And on this evidence, Spain will be playing Portugal in the semi-finals. In order to avoid that or to try to at the very least, France need to come out of their shell in the second period."
MATCH STAT: After 45 minutes of play Spain have completed 324 passes, nearly double France's total of 165. Ouch!
HALF-TIME: SPAIN 1-0 FRANCE. It's been a fairly straightforward half for Vicente Del Bosque's side, as France have struggled to get a hold of the ball and create any clear-cut chances from open play. Xabi Alonso gave Spain the lead with a thumping header in the 19th minute after some lovely interplay between Andres Iniesta and Jordi Alba on the left. France's closest effort came from the right boot of Yohan Cabaye, when the midfielder curled a fine free-kick towards the top-left corner that Iker Casillas did well to tip over his crossbar.
45' + 1'
And now he blows the whistle to mark the end of the first 45 minutes. Spain are in control here.
The referee signals that there will be one minute of added time at the end of this first half. I imagine the France players will be counting down the seconds.
That's disappointing from the Barcelona man though, as his set piece flies straight into the arms of Hugo Lloris in the France goal.
Spain have a free-kick on the left 40 yards from goal that Xavi appears to fancy...
Yellow Card Yohan Cabaye
Yohan Cabaye follows Sergio Ramos into Nicola Pozzoli's book with an ill-timed challenge on Xabi Alonso near the halfway line. France have been distinctly second best in this first half.
Ribery and Benzema just aren't on the same wavelength at the moment. The former looks to dummy a pass from Malouda to allow it to run through to the latter, but Benzema is already on his way moving towards the Spain penalty area expecting Ribery to drive forward with the ball.
Some fantastic insight from our Spain Expert, Ben Hayward, "This is Vicente del Bosque's fifth knockout match in major competitions as Spain coach and the first four all ended 1-0 to La Roja (versus Portugal, Paraguay, Germany and Netherlands at the 2010 World Cup)."
Iniesta plays a perfect one-two with Fabregas 30 yards from goal and is just centimetres from sending the return ball flying towards Lloris' goal. Luckily for the French goalkeeper Koscielny is there to put pressure on the Spain player, which forces him into firing off target.
Ribery dances down the left wing and swings a ball into the area but again Gerard Pique is there. Interestingly, considering the respective height of the two side's players, Spain have won 100% of the aerial duels so far in this match.
MATCH STAT: Spain are still bossing possession here, with 67.1% compared to France's 32.9%.
Our France Expert, Robin Bairner is not happy watching Blanc's side this evening. "France are not capable of posing persistent problems to Spain with the players they've presently got on the field. Blanc will either have to change it quickly and adopt a more attacking stance, which is pitted with danger, or they continue as they are until 45 minutes or an hour, hoping they can hold out and work from there."
Here's another colourful update from one of our guys at the game, Martin Langer, "The Spanish fans in the stadium are ecstatic, they shout "olé" with every good pass and sing "jump Spain, jump!" non-stop. It's a party in the red stand with Del Bosque's boys having their best display in the competition so far."
Florent Malouda, for what seems like the first time in the game, dribbles down the left before firing a cross towards Benzema inside the area. Pique is alert to the danger though, and hacks the ball away before it can reach the attacker.
Yellow Card Sergio Ramos
WONDERFUL EFFORT FROM CABAYE!! That's a really nice strike from the midfielder. The ball is curling towards the top-left corner, and Casillas is forced into making his first save of the game, and it's a good one!
RAMOS BLOCKS BENZEMA!! The Spain centre-back is shown a yellow card for a cynical foul on Benzema, and France have a free-kick in a dangerous area 35 yards from goal, left of centre.
The corner is cleared by the head of Rami, but the ball is soon back in Spain's possession, and they start yet another attack, this time down the left.
CHANCE FOR INIESTA!! Fabregas slips a delightful little ball through to Iniesta inside the area but Koscielny does really well to come across and deflect the Spain attacker's effort round the post and out for a corner.
Ben Hayward gives us his thoughts on Alonso, following his goal that has given Spain the lead. "Xabi Alonso's place in the team had been questioned prior to this match with some saying Del Bosque may even split up his much-maligned partnership with Busquets, but the Real Madrid man has responded in the best possible way with a crucial goal in his 100th appearance for La Roja. A memorable night for the Basque midfielder so far."
Spain are bossing it now in Donetsk, and are manoeuvring the ball at will in midfield. France breath a sigh of relief as the linesman supplies them with a brief rest when he flags Fabregas offside on the right wing.
David Silva breaks into the France penalty area on the left and looks to cut the ball back to the on-rushing Xavi but Les Bleus manage to get a body in the way, and the ball is eventually desperately cleared away. France do not look comfortable after going behind here.
As does his rival for the evening, Ben Hayward, ""Come on Spain, let's finish one of these plays," the Telecinco commentator urged moments ago and somebody must have heard. For all their pretty play, Spain had created little but Alba and Alonso have changed all that. Now France are on the rack and Spain have visibly grown in stature."
Our French Expert, Robin Bairner, reacts to that Spain goal. "France will be so disappointed to lose a goal from a cross. This is one area that they should be able to have coped with, particularly down their right side. But that was not the only issue ... Alonso's run into the box was entirely unmatched, and the midfielder's headed finish was immaculate."
Goal Xabi Alonso
Assist Jordi Alba
GOALLL!!! XABI ALONSO HAS SCORED THE BREAKTHROUGH GOAL ON HIS 100TH APPEARANCE!! Iniesta slid the ball through to the overlapping Jordi Alba on the left, and he did brilliantly to beat Reveillere and loft a perfectly-weighted cross to the back post where Xabi Alonso made no mistake with his header from 8 yards. What a start for the midfielder, and for Spain!
Here's Ben Hayward with his thoughts on Alba's performance so far: "On this evidence, Jordi Alba would slot in seamlessly at Barcelona. The Valencia full-back came through the youth ranks at the Catalan club and is enjoying a fantastic tournament. He covered more ground than any other Spain player during the group stages and is getting forward at every opportunity here. As Del Bosque said this week, he has a great future ahead of him and at €15 million, looks well worth the investment."
MATCH STAT: Unsurprising possession figures so far... Spain: 73.8%. France: 26.2%.
Ribery wins a throw-in deep in Spain's half after playing the ball out off Arbeloa following a decent driving run from Benzema. France fail to make the most of the opportunity though, and Spain soon have the ball once more through Xabi Alonso.
France work the ball well for a minute or so but then gift the ball back to Spain when Yann M'Vila overhits a pass to Benzema. He's been given little to work with so far this evening, the French striker.
The France coach Laurent Blanc is looking fairly pensive on the touchline as his side make a decent start to this match! Just as I say that, Spain break down the left through Arbeloa, but his driven shot(?), hopefully it was a cross, evades everyone in the France penalty area and goes out for a throw-in on the left-hand side.
Our Spain Expert, Ben Hayward, has also got a few things to say about the game so far. "We have just seen both sides of the false-nine role there, with Fabregas dropping deep to pick up possession on the halfway-line before exchanging passes with Jordi Alba and moments later going down in a much more advanced postition - in the penalty area. For the system to work, it's all about movement and quality passing. Executed correctly, it could be devastating - even though Spain don't have Lionel Messi."
Martin Langer is at the game tonight and he's sent us his thoughts on that non-penalty a few minutes ago. "Huge mistake by referee Nicola Rizzoli in the French box. Even from the press tribuna it was very clear how Clichy brought down Fàbregas for an evident penalty. The Barcelona false 9 was logically outraged and the replays just confirmed what everyone but the referee saw on the pitch."
MATCH FACT: Karim Benzema is one of two players (surprise surprise, Cristiano Ronaldo is the other) to have had over 10 shots on target at Euro 2012. In fact Benzema has had 17 shots on target! He is yet to score, despite notching 31 for his club Real Madrid this season.
Alonso is one of the seven players in this game walking a suspension tightrope, carrying a booking from the group stages. The other six are; Arbeloa, Alba, Javi Martinez and Fernando Torres for Spain, and Mathieu Debuchy and Jeremy Menez for France. A yellow card in this match for any of those seven will rule them out of the semi-final should their team get there.
Hats off to to Xabi Alonso by the way, making his 100th appearance for La Roja tonight. What an achievement!
SPAIN ARE APPEALING FOR A PENALTY!! The 'false nine' Cesc Fabregas gets the wrong side of Clichy as he attempts to latch onto a fine lofted pass from the centurion Xabi Alonso, and Clichy looks to nudge him to the ground inside the France penalty area. I've seen those given!!
Alvaro Arbeloa plays a lovely ball down the right to David Silva, but after ghosting past the challenge of Gael Clichy he is dispossessed by a straightforward tackle from Laurent Koscielny.
Karim Benzema tries to break into the Spain penalty area but his club team-mate Sergio Ramos is there blocking his path. France need to be careful not to leave Benzema too isolated upfront.
The early thoughts of our France expert Robin Bairner: "Already a very definite change of French tactics. Instead of pressing the ball as high up the field as possible, Les Bleus are happy to allow Spain possession in their own half, sitting back and getting 11 men behind the ball."
Jordi Alba looks to open his legs down the left for the reigning champions, but France's right-back Anthony Reveillere does well to get to the ball ahead of him and hoof it out of play to safety.
WE ARE UNDERWAY... France get the game started, but quickly surrender possession with a mis-placed long pass from Hugo Lloris.
In the moments before kick-off, a familiar French face has been commenting on Laurent Blanc's line-up. Arsene Wenger has said "This is a team that's been built to resist against Spain, not to beat it". Wise words, and I think he's right. France are set up to soak up pressure and hit on the counter attack by the looks of it.
FRANCE'S NATIONAL ANTHEM PERFORMANCE: Robin Bairner tells us, "France are definitely getting better at singing their anthem at the tournament goes on. Even Benzema just about manages to move his lips!"
Martin Langer has been in touch to tell us what was going on before the players came out. "Pre-game shows in this Euro have been weird but this one is the cream of the crop. Dancers dressed in orange overalls wielding giant hammers precede guys running around holding black platforms above their heads making diamond shapes and then the usual giant ball with people running everywhere in patterns that don't seem to make sense." Hmmm...
The teams are making their way out on to the pitch at the Donbass Arena, and I can confirm that the stadium is filling up nicely!
I don't think they like being called boring. I'm just putting that out there...
ARBELOA: "You can't win every game 3-0, you can't be brilliant every time. The opposition play too but it is as if they don't exist."
INIESTA: "We shouldn't think such criticism doesn't help when they say we played badly – the criticism is there for a reason. But when a team has played very well for a long period, and won the EURO and the World Cup, expectations are very high, and that is just something that goes along with the success you have. That's just inevitable."
Spain have become too predictable and are not an entertaining side to watch anymore, according to 48.8 per cent of Goal.com readers. Well I tell you what, this kind of thing HAS NOT gone down well with the Spain squad, who have been getting it in the neck from all sides over the past couple of weeks. Here are a few of their response's to these criticisms...
A NICE COMFORTABLE COMPETITIVE DEBUT FOR LAURENT KOSCIELNY...Robin Bairner tells us, "Koscielny previously said earlier this week that he would have preferred to face Torres than Fabregas. He believes that he's better suited to mark an orthodox No.9 as opposed to someone like Cesc, who play the role very different. The Arsenal man must keep his discpline if France are to successful tonight." Laurent won't mind too much though. I saw an interview with him on UEFA.com today in which he claimed he was "making the most of every moment" he has with the squad. Ben Arfa and Nasri take note...
According to Ben Hayward, the majority of Spain's Barcelona contingent will not be in awe of their surroundings in Donetsk. "This may be Spain's first game in Ukraine at Euro 2012 but Pique, Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets have all played in Donetsk with Barcelona. Iniesta missed the last match with the Catalan club, however, and hasn't featured before at the Donbass Arena (inaugurated in 2009). Cesc also missed Arsenal's visit in 2010. None have scored there, with Lionel Messi netting all three Barca goals over two games (2-1 and 1-0 wins), while Theo Walcott was on target in a 2-1 defeat for the Gunners."
STAT-ATTACK: Despite having a torrid record in competitive matches against the French, Spain have won 13 of their 30 meetings with Les Bleus, losing 11 and drawing six. Their most memorable victory was an 8-1 win in 1929. Spain have also won their last two friendly fixtures against the French: 2-0 in Paris in 2010 and 1-0 in Malaga in 2008.
Our other man at the Donbass Arena, the mighty Martin Langer has sent me a quick update on Spain's pre-match routine. "Amazing stuff from the Spanish subs who are warming up juggling the ball in a circle. They are all pulling some crazy moves... except for Fernando Torres, who seems to miss every time he tries to do something else than control de ball with his right foot. But well, you don't have to be a great juggler to be a great finisher obviously." I think you're being kind there Martin.
Will France give Zinedine Zidane and Patrick Vieira a birthday to remember today? Robin Bairner's been in touch with a lovely little Zizou stat on the great man's 40th birthday. "Zidane scored a total of three international goals against Spain - more than any other nation." How they could do with his goals this evening! They have only scored three times in the whole tournament so far, despite having 36 shots on target!
LET'S TAKE A TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE WITH OUR SPAIN EXPERT, BEN HAYWARD..."A France side featuring Menez, Nasri, Ben Arfa and Benzema beat a Spain XI including Cesc and Pique at the Under-17 European Championships in 2004. That match was played in France and finished 1-0 to the locals after a Mario Suarez own goal. Following their group game, France and Spain met again in the final. This time Les Bleus won 2-1, with Nasri and Pique both on target." Not many people would have predicted that Benzema would be the only one of those four French players to start this match, eight years after that U-17 victory.
Here's an update from one of our correspondents at the Donbass Arena, James Goldman: "35 minutes until kick-off and the stadium is around two thirds empty. Hope it fills up - this match deserves a full house. Samir Nasri is here, currently standing pretty much on his own playing a game of crossbar challenge." I wonder what Samir is thinking out there on the pitch. It looks like that much-publicised spat with Alou Diarra after the Sweden match has cost both of them, as neither start tonight.
TALK TO ME... Don't forget guys, you can get in touch with me by posting your comments in the box to the right of this LIVE commentary. I would love to hear from you! To kick things off, let me know what you think of the two starting XIs, is Blanc barking to drop Nasri and Diarra, or has he made the right decisions? Also, the Return of the False Nine, what do you think to that?
And now Ben Hayward our Spain expert has offered his opinion on Del Bosque's decision to go with that much-criticised 'false nine' just when we all thought we had seen the back of it. "Del Bosque has gone for the same side which started against Italy in their Group C opener. And despite Cesc Fabregas' goal, La Roja failed to create too much in the way of clear chances while he was on the pitch in the 1-1 draw. So will it work better tonight? Cesc was replaced by Fernando Torres late on against Italy, but the Chelsea striker subsequently squandered two great chances to win it and both came under fire after the match. It was a false nine and a false start for Spain. Del Bosque has defended the plan ever since, but started Torres against both Ireland (when he scored two) and Croatia (when late sub Jesus Navas grabbed the winner two minutes from time)."
Here's Robin Bairner's take on Laurent Blanc's controversial starting XI: "France's starting line up is as it was reported earlier today. It's an XI with plenty of talking points. Neither Malouda nor Debuchy is a true central midfielder, yet the duo will be up against the finest midfield in the game. Blanc is taking a real gamble in this regard, and placing massive pressure on youngster Yann M'Vila. The coach has reinforced the flanks with the inclusion of Debuchy, but against Spain the greatest threat France face is through the centre, so this is a surprising move and one that will receive massive criticism in France if it doesn't come off. Without Nasri, the creative options for Les Bleus are limited. Franck Ribery will be expected to provide a spark along with Benzema in attack, but the Real Madrid man tends to wander too deep, so there is a danger France could be left with no one up front. Blanc's gambles against Sweden backfired spectacularly, and an ugly defeat against Spain tonight will certainly see widespread criticism of 'Lolo', largely because of the surprisingly defensive nature of his starting XI. Personally, I'm pretty convinced he's got things wrong tonight - but I hope to be proven wrong!"
You guys are spoilt tonight, as not only will I be providing you with insight from Goal.com's France and Spain experts, Robin Bairner and Ben Hayward, we ALSO have two of our men at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk, James Goldman and Martin Langer, and they will be sending through colourful updates and comments on the match as it progresses. You lucky, lucky people.
SPAIN TEAM NEWS: Del Bosque has chosen to play a 'false nine' once more, with Cesc Fabregas replacing Fernando Torres upfront. Elsewhere the team is unchanged, as the coach reverts back to the team that started the first match of the tournament against Italy. Alvaro Arbeloa and Xabi Alonso retain their places despite rumours in the Spanish press that they may be dropped to the bench in favour of Juanfran and Pedro.
FRANCE TEAM NEWS: "Ultra-defensive" is how L'Equipe have described Laurent Blanc's line-up this evening, as the France coach has decided to drop Samir Nasri and play Mathieu Debuchy in midfield, with Anthony Reveillere coming in at right-back. Reveillere's inclusion is labelled a "real surprise", as France line up with a packed midfield which is no doubt an attempt to limit the influence of Andres Iniesta. It looks like Alou Diarra and Nasri's publicised bust-up following France's defeat to Sweden has proved costly after all, as both are dropped from the starting XI. Laurent Koscielny comes in at centre-back for the suspended Philippe Mexes for France, where he will play alongside Adil Rami. Koscielny has impressed for Arsenal this season but it will be interesting to see how he and Rami perform having played just 18 minutes together previously.
France (4-4-1-1): Lloris; Reveillere, Rami, Koscielny, Clichy; Debuchy, Cabaye, M'Vila, Malouda; Ribery; Benzema
Spain (4-3-3): Casillas; Arbeloa, Ramos, Pique, Alba; Xavi, Busquets, Alonso; Iniesta, Cesc, Silva
The teamsheets are in, so without further ado, here are the two side’s starting XIs:
The French journal L’Equipe documented fights between Samir Nasri and Alou Diarra following Blanc's side's 2-0 defeat to Sweden, and Ben Arfa’s threat to leave the squad in the middle of the tournament after a heated discussion with the coach. Though this may be considered far from ideal preparation for taking on the world and european champions there is a possibility that it has helped unify the group. Spain's Sergio Busquets gave his frank view on the situation in the French camp when questioned by journalists: "In a competition like this, the objectives are more important than any conflicts in the dressing room. Arguments happen in any family, any home and dressing rooms are similar. Once the match starts, it won't matter. I think they've already forgotten it. They've said they're concentrating on Spain."
It's not going to be easy for Vicente Del Bosque's side though, as they face a French side boasting the attacking talents of Karim Benzema and Franck Ribery alongside their impressive midfield duo of Yann M'Vila and Yohan Cabaye.
NEVERTHELESS, Spain will still be out to win this one, as their captain and goalkeeper Iker Casillas said: "records are there to be broken". Fighting talk from the Spain skipper!
They say revenge is a dish best served cold, but I tell you what the Spanish are going to have trouble keeping that dish cool if the updates coming in from Donetsk are anything to go by! By all accounts, it has been a sweltering day in the Ukrainian city, with temperatures reaching 30 degrees celcius.
Their most recent defeat came in the second round of the 2006 World Cup, when Raymond Domenech's side triumphed 3-1, while before that they also lost to Les Bleus in the quarter-finals of Euro 2000, and perhaps most bitterly of all, in the final in 1984. That was the first of six competitive meetings between the two teams, with France winning five of those six matches.
Spain have NEVER beaten France in a competitive match...
Good evening and may I wish you a warm welcome to Goal.com's LIVE coverage of this evening's European Championship quarter-final between Spain and France at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk. My name is Charlie Scott and I'll be doing my best to keep you all informed and entertained over the course of this game. Let's make one thing clear before we get started...
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