Laurent Blanc must lift listless France for showdown with holders Spain in quarter-finals
Sweden 2 France 0
Wednesday 20 June 2012
The Spaniards struggled past Croatia, the Germans might have perished and the Russians inconceivably bottled it. As for France, well, they were less than graceful as they joined Europe's elite despite a desperate 2-0 defeat against Sweden.
It means Laurent Blanc's side will now face the Group C winners Spain on Saturday – the tie both he and Roy Hodgson surely must have fancied avoiding.
Ambling along, as if sussing out the caf situation down the Champs-Élyses rather than urgently booking their place in the quarter-finals, France struggled to exert pressure on a liberated Sweden. Indeed, it was the side already out of the competition who had the best of the proceedings as Les Bleus effectively people-watched.
Martin Olsson and Kim Kallstrom were allowed to roam down the left, both picking out unmarked men in the box, but on this occasion Ola Toivonen and Seb Larsson respectively failed to trouble Hugo Lloris.
The Swedes should have taken the lead in the 10th minute. Toivonen outmanoeuvred Philippe Mexes, who naively jumped for a long punt rather than hold his ground; the striker rounded Lloris but took himself too wide and his effort went out via the foot of the post. Mexes divides opinion and it is difficult to see why Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny isn't handed a starting berth in place of either the AC Milan central defender or his partner, Adil Rami.
When France venture forward with purpose, they do look dangerous. Managing to pass Kallstrom and Anders Svensson proved tricky, but when the French did the Swedish defensive frailties were all too apparent. Andreas Granqvist misjudged a routine aerial ball and Franck Ribery's shot was well parried. But the tireless running of their midfield limited Hatem Ben Arfa specifically to shots from distance.
Ribery, always the centre of France's best moments, attempted to ramp up the attacking threat but was well matched by the midfield two. Their clever tactical fouls were crucial in stopping the game from becoming stretched – something Sweden's manager Erik Hamren was not given in the opening two matches, surely to his frustration.
With the freedom to express themselves, the eliminated Sweden were a different outfit: potent, expansive and exciting to watch. The introduction of Christian Wilhelmsson gave them added natural width and it was from his excellent wide play that they scored on 54 minutes.
Wilhelmsson controlled a ball he had no right to before picking out Larsson, and though his strike was saved, from the second phase of the attack Zlatan Ibrahimovic was found in a pocket of space between Alou Diarra and Mexes, unleashing an unstoppable swivelling volley beyond the helpless Lloris.
As they were against England, Scandinavian tails were up with Ibrahimovic at his nonchalant best, slipping in Wilhelmsson who would have doubled the lead but for a smart stop. From the resulting corner Olof Mellberg nearly capped his last international game with a goal, a clever flick dramatically tipped over.
It was not until hearing of an England goal in Donetsk that Blanc's full-backs decided to bomb on. Passengers beforehand, Mathieu Debuchy in particular became a handful, teeing up Florent Malouda and Samir Nasri to fire efforts goalwards but to no avail.
They forced Sweden further and further back, substitutes Jeremy Menez and Olivier Giroud both missing chances to level the scores. Menez picked up on a one-two, weaving through a static defence, but fluffed his lines, scuffing into Andreas Isaksson's path, while Giroud missed the target with a free header.
Intricacy got the better of them eventually though, and they were hit on the break to devastating effect. On 90 minutes, at the back post Samuel Holmen hit the bar but it rebounded back to Seb Larsson, who devastatingly crashed home a volley.
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