Xabi Alonso's brace sends Spain past France and into the Euro 2012 semi-finals
Spain 2-0 France
Saturday 23 June 2012
Xabi Alonso celebrated his 100th cap with two goals as Vicente Del Bosque's Spain defeated France for the first time in a tournament and sent them though to a semi-final showdown with Portugal next Wednesday.
Former Liverpool midfielder Alonso struck with a powerful header in the 19th minute of a game that rarely lived up to expectations, with only a handful of French and Spanish fans in the Donbass Arena.
And the Real Madrid star confirmed victory with a penalty in the final minutes as the Spanish finally overcame France for the first time in seven tournament meetings, and now return to Donetsk to face Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal in the semi-finals.
The Spanish took a while to get their passing game going, with both sides looking nervous for the first 15 minutes and giving the ball away far too easily.
With a place in the last four at stake, they were cagey from the start before Spain started to impose themselves. They thought they should have had a penalty in the eighth minute when Cesc Fabregas was bundled over by his former Arsenal team-mate Gael Clichy as they chased a ball over the top from Alonso, but Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli waved play on.
Barely ten minutes later, Spain were ahead with a goal of ruthless efficiency. Alonso started the move on the halfway line, shuttling the ball to Andres Iniesta who then split the defence to set Jordy Alba free.
The Valencia left-back burst clear of the flailing Matthieu Debuchy before looking up to float the perfect cross towards the far past, where Alonso was charging in like a steam train to power a header past Hugo Lloris. It was a beautifully-worked goal and the ideal way for the midfielder to celebrate his century of appearances.
Spain continued to dominate, and Gerard Pique headed over from a corner and Xavi fired a free-kick straight at Lloris as half-time approached.
But the French refused to go quietly and started the second half in determined mood. Ribery let a half-chance get away, before crossing for Debuchy to power a header just over the bar. Cabaye almost got in, and then Malouda teed up Karim Benzema only to see the Real Madrid striker balloon his shot high and wide.
But still Spain dictated play in what was a strangely quiet atmosphere, with only a handful of fans having made the trip. The Ukrainians, who dominated the stadium seemed content with Mexican Wave after Mexican Wave and sing for their own country from time to time.
And when sub Pedro was tripped in the closing minutes, Alonso stepped up to put the penalty away to put Spain one step from the Final.
1 Casillas, 3 Pique, 15 Ramos, 17 Arbeloa, 18 Alba, 6 Iniesta (20 Cazorla 84), 8 Xavi, 10 Fabregas (9 Torres, 67), 14 Alonso, 16 Busquets, 21 Silva (7 Pedrito 65).
Subs not used: 12 Valdes, 23 Reina, 2 Albiol, 4 Martinez, 5 Juanfran, 22 Navas, 11 Negredo, 13 Mata, 19 Llorente.
1 Lloris, 2 Debuchy (14 Menez, 64), 4 Rami, 13 Reveillere, 21 Koscielny, 22 Clichy, 6 Cabaye, 15 Malouda (11 Nasri 64), 17 M'Vila (9 Giroud 79), 7 Ribery, 10 Benzema.
Subs not used: 16 Mandanda, 23 Carrasso, 03 Evra, 08 Valbuena, 12 Matuidi, 18 Diarra, 19 Martin, 20 Ben Arfa
Nicola Rizzoli (Italy)