Spain cruised pass a very lethargic looking France to book themselves a place in semi-final against Iberian Peninsula neighbours Portugal last night. In a game that failed to deliver the kind of two-sided match we were all expecting. Following Frances 2-0 loss to Sweden there was talk of problems in the camp. Problems of not Spain’s quick passing, and ball control was just too much for Les Bleus, and it was soon evident that it was just a matter of time before Spain would score. Starting the game without a recognised striker preferring to play instead Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabregas who immediately had an impact being brought down in the box by a clumsy challenge that should have resulted in a penalty, but Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli waved off the appeals.
Spain’s breakthrough came soon after from a Jordi Alba cross from the left wing that unmarked Xavi Alonso easily headed home to put Spain 1-0 up.
The game continued in this vain with France short of ideas, and the Spanish keeping superb possession right up to the added three minutes of extra- time when Frances Reveillere brought down Spanish substitute Pedro for a penalty that Alonso put away in style.
The verdict here is that Spain on this form look to be heading to the final with only Ronaldo, and Nani now standing in their way.
After the game when interviewed Real Madrid’s two goals hero had this to say: “The team was phenomenal. To celebrate 100 caps with two goals makes me happy.
“We knew that from now on the matches are all life or death and that’s how we prepared against France.
“We have controlled the game and we will try to play the same or even better against Portugal.”
England v Italy Olympic Stadium (Kiev 20:45 CET)
In a much anticipated match between the three Lions, and the Azzuri the deciding factor in this reporters opinion will be between Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard, and Juventus player Andrea Pirlo, and the battle for who controls mid-field.
So far in this tournament the Italians have shown nothing special, and it can be said of England also that they have not played an attractive style of football, but have managed to get the job done in the end. As I have already said it will be the team that controls the centre of the pitch who will win. Italy will as always play a very defensive game, and it will be up to England to score first. If this happens Italy will then have to come out, and attack leaving opportunities for England on the counter attack.
It will be interesting to see if Italian coach Cesare Prandelli will play Manchester City strike Mario Balotelli from the start of bring him on later as a substitute. Balotelli is the one man in the Italian team that can either win the match for Italy, or lose it also. For me it would be a risk starting the volatile player so my guess is the coach will think like me and leave him on the bench.
When interviewed yesterday Balotelli said: ‘All the Manchester City players are my friends: James Milner, Joe Hart and Gareth Barry. But the player I fear the most? I don’t fear anyone. I just hope it’s going to be a good match and I think it’s going to be fun to play against my team-mates. They know me and I know them. I just hope it’s going to be nice and fun. ‘But I just want to win. Even if they’re my team-mates, I hope they’re going to lose.’
My verdict on this match is that without an early goal from England it will be a low scoring game with neither team looking for a win but rather looking not to lose. This match also has the potential to go to penalties, in which case my money is on Joe Hart. My prediction is for England to win 2-1.