Posted On Monday, June 25, 2012 at 08:59:05 AM
Donetsk, Ukraine: Even if Spain failed to live up to expectations, Xabi Alonso exceeded them. The defending champions, who are looking to win a third straight major title, advanced to the European Championship semi-finals with a not-so-commanding 2-0 win over France on Saturday. In the next round, Portugal and star player Cristiano Ronaldo could provide a much sterner test.
“These types of games, in this type of competition, are always very tense,” Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said of Saturday’s win, “and you need to have the know-how to win them.”
Alonso provided that.
The Real Madrid midfielder celebrated his 100th international appearance with an early header and a late penalty, a pair of rare goals from a player more accustomed to anchoring the back of the six-man midfield rather than pushing forward with the rest.
“I could never have imagined to reach my 100th cap, to go to the semis and score two goals,” Alonso said. “Hopefully the 101st will be better.”
Spain’s next match will come on Wednesday against Portugal, again at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk. And with Ronaldo improving as the tournament progresses, Spain will likely have to step up a notch to earn a chance to defend its title.
Saturday’s opening goal was the result of excellent one-touch football — the hallmark of Spain’s game. Andres Iniesta prodded the ball through for Jordi Alba, who whipped a perfect cross from the left. Alonso timed his run so well that no France defender picked him up.
Spain wrapped things up after France right back Anthony Reveillere barged into substitute forward Pedro Rodriguez in injury time. Alonso coolly sent goalkeeper Hugo Lloris the wrong way from the spot, looking right but clipping the ball firmly to the left.
“He knows how to sacrifice himself, help the team and where to play,” Del Bosque said of Alonso. “He is one of the attacking strengths of ours. He knows how to create and finish.”
The win was Spain’s first ever over France in a competitive match in seven attempts. But France wasn’t that competitive on Saturday, managing only one shot on target.
“When you lose a game there’s always something missing, I’m not sure if it’s possession or technical ability,” France coach Laurent Blanc said. “The lads gave everything and it’s very hard to play against Spain. We blocked their left flank, which is their strong point.”
France’s best moment came in the 32nd minute when Yohan Cabaye’s free kick was tipped over by Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas.
Although the French made it out of the group stage for the first time since the 2006 World Cup, the manner of Saturday’s loss will be disappointing for a team touted as one of the tournament’s dangerous outsiders.
France formed a deep defensive line and watched awe-struck as Spain flicked the ball around like a training session.
While the French averted a repeat of the 2010 World Cup crisis — when the entire squad went on strike at training — the buildup to Saturday’s game was marred by tensions in the camp following a heated dressing room bust-up after the 2-0 loss to Sweden.
Nasri vs Journalist, Again
Samir Nasri launched a foul-mouthed tirade against a French journalist when asked what he thought of France’s 2-0 defeat by Spain. The journalist had become exasperated by the Manchester City star’s refusal to make any comment about the match and instead had been subjected to an attack with Nasri saying all he wanted was to write ‘shit’ about him and his team mates.
The AFP journalist in order to put a stop to the tirade replied: “Alright then get lost if you have nothing to say.” A few seconds later Nasri returned and accosted the journalist. “You told me to get lost, alright come with me and we will settle it outside.” The journalist replied: “Yeah right.”
This provoked Nasri to launch into an even more personal and violent attack. “Go f*** yourself, go f*** your mother, you son of a bitch. You want us to have it out, go f*** yourself,” he said before leaving the mixed zone.