Portugal have already secured their place in the quarter-finals of Euro 2012, Germany will surely join them this evening when they go up against Greece in Gdansk.
The weekend brings with it two mouth watering clashes between four giants of the European game, with Italy, France England and reigning champions Spain all involved.
On Sunday, England will look to continue their resurgence under Roy Hodgson when they face Italy in Kiev. Before then however Spain and France square up to one another and it promises to be an enthralling contest.
La Roja have yet to hit the heights of their successful campaign four years ago while France have once again demonstrated their ability to implode at a major tournament following their dressing room bust up which came after their 2-0 defeat against Sweden.
The odds are stacked in Spain’s favour on Saturday, but what have they got to do to ensure that France are sent home with Les Blues while they keep their hopes of retaining their crown alive?
The Torres question
Fernando Torres finds himself at the heart of one of the most intense debates currently raging at Euro 2012, and for once it is not his form that is making the headlines, at least not directly.
While the Chelsea striker's form has put his place in Spain’s starting XI in doubt it is not only because of his struggles that manager Vicente del Bosque opted to field a starting XI against Italy without a striker.
Aiming to cut Italy’s attacks off at the source, Del Bosque fielded Cesc Fabregas as his side’s most attacking player, deploying the Barcelona midfielder in a ‘false 9’ role to drop deep and thwart Andreas Pirlo before his range of passing could impact up on the game.
While the tactic was hardly a failure it wasn’t a mitigated success either and Torres took to the field against Ireland in the next game, scoring twice in the process.
When England played against France, much of the talk was whether Andy Carroll would start up front. In the end Roy Hodgson went for Danny Welbeck, as well as including the quicksilver Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain against France’s cumbersome defence. Movement and pace is key against France, and Torres is the man to reap the rewards of those passing assassins behind him.
The midfield battle
Before Euro 2012 started, Karim Benzema picked up on a common theme doing the rounds. The striker pointed out how far France had come since their disastrous 2010 World Cup campaign, hailing the new found unity in the squad.
The Real Madrid man also said he believed France were developing into side worthy of comparison to Spain in terms of their fluidity and passing – and now that theory will be put to the ultimate test.
France’s front three of Benzema, Samir Nasri and Franck Ribery is as potent as their opponents but the three tasked with out-passing and out-pressing the likes of Xavi, Sergio Busquest and Xabi Alonso – Yohan Cabaye, Florent Malouda and Yann M’Vila – are nowhere near the class of their counterparts.
The head to head battle between the midfield three of both sides looks as though it can only end in victory for Spain, their prize the majority of possession, and that means Cabaye and his cohorts need to keep their shape well without the ball to protect a rickety looking defence. Do they contest for the ball or drop off and concede possession? The game could rest on their tactical choice.
Benzema v Pique
Karim Benzema has threatened to explode in this tournament but hasn’t quite managed it as yet – he has managed 17 shots without a goal thus far, the most of any individual in the tournament.
That is not to say he has under-performed however; after an excellent season with Real Madrid his inclusion ahead of Olivier Giroud has been fully justified, and he will look to make an impact this weekend.
Gerard Pique didn’t enjoy his best season with Barcelona last time round, nor did Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos (although he has played well in this tournament) and this could be the game in which Benzema finally comes to the party.
Whether he can or not will depend on the service and assistance provided for him by Samir Nasri and Franck Ribery – all three have to be at their dynamic best.
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