Spain ended a 28-year tournament victory drought against France with a 2-0 win to advance to the semifinals of the European soccer championship.
Xabi Alonso, playing his 100th game for Spain, scored both goals last night at Donbass Arena in Donetsk, Ukraine, as the reigning European and world champion advanced to a meeting with Iberian neighbor Portugal in three days.
“I’m really glad it happened his way and now I hope the 101st one will be better,” Alonso said at a news conference.
Spain’s victory ends a six-match winless run in tournaments against France that began with a 2-0 defeat in the 1984 European Championship final in Paris. The French were also the last team to eliminate Spain from a tournament, in the 2006 World Cup.
“I don’t think this is an unfair result because they really didn’t have chances,” Spanish coach Vicente del Bosque, whose team had 62 percent possession and a 9-4 shot advantage, said at a news conference. “We were in control most of the time.”
England and Italy play their quarterfinal today in Kiev with the winner advancing to face record three-time champion Germany on June 28. The Euro 2012 final is July 1.
France came into the game trying to deal with a locker-room dispute among players following a defeat to Sweden in its final group match. Coach Laurent Blanc made four changes to his starting lineup from that game, including selecting defender Anthony Reveillere ahead of right-sided attacker Samir Nasri to nullify the threat posed by Spanish midfielder Andres Iniesta.
No Strike Attack
Del Bosque opted for an attack without a recognized striker, starting midfielder Cesc Fabregas instead of Fernando Torres. Spain also used that formation in its opening 1-1 tie with Italy before selecting Torres for its final two group matches.
Fabregas appealed for a penalty in the fifth minute after going down under a challenge from Gael Clichy, with Italian referee Nicola Rizzola giving a goal kick instead.
Spain took the lead in the 19th minute as Iniesta held off two players and sent in left-back Jordi Alba, whose cross to the far post was headed in by Alonso. It was a record 20th-headed goal in the 16-team tournament.
“We had looked a lot at the Spanish lineup and knew they’re very good on the left with Iniesta and Jordi Alba doubling up,” Blanc told reporters. “The frustrating thing is we conceded down that side of the pitch and we planned to stop them there. That’s was Jordi’s only cross in the first half and Xabi Alonso strolls in. That’s what’s infuriating.”
France, which hadn’t really threatened, almost drew even in the 30th minute as Yohan Cabaye’s free kick was knocked away by goalkeeper Iker Casillas. It turned out to be France’s only on- target shot of the match.
Gerard Pique headed wide when unmarked in the 38th minute as Spain continued its domination and Xavi Hernandez sent a long free kick straight to French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris just before halftime.
Spain started the second half slowly and allowed the French opportunities with the ball in its half. It almost proved costly when Franck Ribery got beyond Sergio Busquets but missed with a cross for Mathieu Debuchy. A minute later Cabaye failed to get the ball under control when freed into the area by Florent Malouda.
That was Malouda’s last involvement in the game as Blanc ended his experiment of playing with two right-sided defenders, and also took off Debuchy. The pair was replaced by attackers Jeremy Menez and Nasri.
Menez forced Iker Casillas into a save at his near post with 20 minutes to go with striker Benzema waiting for any fumble from his Real Madrid teammate for a first goal in two European Championships.
Torres replaced Fabregas and was ruled offside as he failed to beat Lloris after going through alone on goal. Alonso then secured victory with a penalty kick in the first minute of stoppage time after Pedro Rodriguez was taken down by Reveillere.
To contact the reporter on this story: Tariq Panja in Donetsk, Ukraine, via the London newsroom at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at email@example.com