Two goals from the Real Madrid midfielder provided the difference as La Roja secured their first ever competitive win over Les Bleus who proved extremely unadventurousSpain set up an all-Iberian semi-final with Portugal as they earned a 2-0 win over France with a workmanlike display in the last eight at the Donbass Arena.
La Roja bossed the game in large parts, opening the scoring midway through the first half thanks to Xabi Alonso as he completed a century of international appearances. Despite an improved performance in the second half Les Bleus failed to find a breakthrough and received a sucker-punch when Alonso slotted home from the penalty spot in second-half stoppage time.
Following Fernando Torres' disappointing performance against Croatia, Vicente del Bosque reverted to the striker-less formation which garnered so much criticism after their opening group game with Cesc Fabregas rejoining the forward line.
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In an attempt to stifle the typically fluid and creative Spaniards, Laurent Blanc opted to begin with Mathieu Debuchy in front of Anthony Reveillere on the right in order to help protect against Andres Iniesta and Jordi Alba. Samir Nasri started among the substitutes amid rumours of infighting for a fairly conservative looking French team.
Spain controlled the ball from kick-off, passing it across the field and probing for an opening that proved elusive until the 19th minute. Blanc will have been furious that when Spain did create an opportunity it came down his side's supposedly fortified right. Iniesta threaded a pass to the overlapping Alba and he looked up and picked out Alonso who headed the ball back across goal and into the far corner.
Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema were doing their best to provide a moment's respite for their side but for all their endeavour they frequently found themselves running into dead ends and handing the ball straight back to the opposition.
In the 35th minute Les Bleus got their first shot on target from a free-kick after Sergio Ramos felled Benzema. Yohan Cabaye struck the ball from 35 yards and it looked destined for the top left corner until Iker Casillas palmed it away.
For all their possession La Roja were once again creating very little. A give-and-go between Iniesta and Fabregas enabled the former to get in behind the defence but his effort was blocked by a recovering Laurent Koscielny on his competitive debut for France.
France returned from the break in a far more positive manner and began to commit greater numbers forward when on the ball. With an hour played Ribery worked some space on the left and clipped a cross into the middle. Debuchy met it in the centre of the box but his header sailed narrowly over the bar.
With Spain reducing their urgency Blanc sensed the momentum swinging the way of his side and made two attacking substitutions, replacing Debuchy and Florent Malouda with Jeremy Menez and Nasri.
All night France had allowed Alvaro Arbeloa a lot of freedom on the right in an attempt to provide Ribery with more space in behind him on the left flank. This almost paid dividends in the 71st minute when the Bayern Munich winger charged forwards and drilled a dangerous cross into the six-yard box but Casillas got a hand to it and gathered at the second attempt.
The substitutes failed to have the desired impact on the game, however, as the Spanish defence remained tight. Del Bosque's side were then awarded a penalty in stoppage-time when Reveillere brought Pedro down in the area. Alonso stepped up and converted from 12 yards, sending Hugo Lloris the wrong way.
Spain now have three days of rest until they return to Donetsk to face Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal in the semi-final. France will turn their attentions to the World Cup qualifying campaign where they will face La Roja twice, with the first fixture coming in October.