No room for error as Del Bosque and Blanc search for the perfect recipe

Today at Euro 2012: Spain v France

No game at the European Championship will have more attacking talent on show than tonight's quarter-final between Spain and France in Donetsk. But it does not feel like a shoot-out. These are two flawed teams, both of whom underwhelmed in the group stages. The two coaches, Vicente Del Bosque and Laurent Blanc, may need to rebalance and redirect their sides. The winner will face Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal in Donetsk on Wednesday, and he will not be forgiving.

Iker Casillas and Andres Iniesta both defended Spain's performance yesterday, eager to reassure that the dream of a third consecutive trophy was still alive. But their record in Group C, even though they won it ahead of Italy and Croatia, did not announce themselves as a team certain to fulfil their historic destiny.

It is a strange criticism to make of a reigning European and world champion side, but Spain do not seem to know their best team. They have been torn between playing a "false" centre-forward, Cesc Fabregas, or a conventional one in Fernando Torres. Fabregas started the 1-1 draw with Italy, but despite scoring was replaced by Torres for the 4-0 defeat of the Republic of Ireland. Torres kept his place against Croatia, but was replaced before the late winner.

Before Jesus Navas's goal, though, Spain looked worryingly slow, tired and predictable, like a team who had run their course, just like holders France at the 2002 World Cup. Croatia arguably had the better of the second half and nearly scored a goal which would have knocked Spain out. You wanted to see authority and ruthlessness in that third group game but from Spain there was little of either.

"The truth is that we've raised the standards so much," explained Casillas to Uefa.com yesterday. "In the last few years we've become European and world champions, and now people demand that from us again. But people shouldn't forget that it's not that easy."

Iniesta, so far looking fitter, fresher and somehow even better than ever, agreed. "All thoughts or criticisms that are constructive, and aren't hurtful, and have to be respected," said the Barcelona midfielder, who has continued to play with his characteristic mix of ethereal drift and ruthless conviction.

"We just need a bit of patience, a bit of balance and coherence, because we all want to win, of course," Iniesta said. "We all want to do well and the coach puts out the team he thinks is the best for each match. You certainly have games where things go well and others where they don't."

Whether Del Bosque will rebalance the team is unclear. There is a strong case which says that this Spain side is too pure, too refined, too artistic and too passive. Having Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso, Xavi, Iniesta and David Silva in the same side is beautiful, but it does not maximise the chance of success. Football is not just about passing, but running and shooting, too: the pace of Pedro or Jesus Navas or the presence of Fernando Llorente might make this team more efficient.

Blanc is another man who has not yet found the right combination. France, clearly, do not have as coherent a style of play as Spain. But Blanc made two changes between each group game, and should make more tonight. The best of Karim Benzema, Samir Nasri and Franck Ribéry has yet to come, and Blanc admitted that the recriminations after the 2-0 defeat to Sweden on Tuesday have disrupted preparations.

"There were words exchanged after the game," Blanc revealed yesterday. "There was a reaction. Some players were very angry. That is true. Certain things were said. We acted on those. People are worked up and angry after a defeat and there were raised voices. We took a bit of time to calm everyone down. It did delay us in terms of when we could start preparing for the game with Spain but you have priorities that have to be dealt with."

France, obviously, must improve if they are to challenge Spain tonight, and start playing as a team. Blanc pointed to the fact that Spain were troubled twice in the group stage. "Croatia and Italy showed a lot of solidarity, commitment and willingness against them and they are the qualities we will need to show if we are to have a chance of winning the game," said the France coach. The fact that France have shown none of those three so far cannot have evaded him.

"I don't think we had the commitment we needed to show in the game with Sweden and, if we have another off day like that, the outcome will be worse," Blanc continued. "But I should not have to motivate my players for this game. If they are not motivated to play Spain, they do not understand what it is all about."

There will surely be attacking changes tonight, with Hatem Ben Arfa unlikely to keep his place on the right wing. Yohan Cabaye will surely return to add some subtlety and calm to the midfield while Jérémy Ménez may return after being so dangerous against Ukraine.

But the most important change might be at centre-back. There was a clamour for the inclusion of Laurent Koscielny before the start of the tournament, but Blanc decided to play Philippe Mexès and Adil Rami. Mexès is now suspended so Koscielny will make his first competitive start tonight. "It is a chance for him," said Blanc. "He will be very well prepared. He was very close to getting into the starting XI, and now that will happen."

The change might bring about the stability that France need at the back. But Blanc or Del Bosque may have to re-adjust if they are to challenge not just beyond tonight but towards the trophy.

Player To Watch

Jordi Alba, Spain

Probably the least well-known of Spain's starting XI, left-back Jordi Alba had a fabulous season at Valencia. Joan Capdevila operated in that position at the previous two tournaments, but Alba's youthful enthusiasm saw him dislodge the veteran on a permanent basis after only his first cap last year.

As is customary with the reigning champions, Alba is technically superb and tricky on the ball. He is a reported target for Manchester United, but his Barcelona-based team-mates are desperate for him to move to the Nou Camp. "He is complete," Pedro said. "He can play as a winger or full-back, is quick, has a great left foot and crosses well."

Criticisms of Alba tend to focus on his defending – he can be rash in the tackle and picked up 16 yellow cards and one red last season. But the 23-year-old is more than useful as an attacking threat after chipping in with three goals and seven assists last season.

Spain v France

France manager Laurent Blanc has a fully-fit squad ahead of tonight's quarter-final. Crucially for Les Bleus, Franck Ribéry and Samir Nasri have recovered from knocks while Yohan Cabaye returns.

"[Cabaye has] become vital," Blanc said. "We saw that in the games he played. Players like him, you notice when they're not there."

Andres Iniesta, meanwhile, wants Spain to be more ruthless in possession. "We need to be aggressive and intense, create, and take our chances," he said.

Kick-off 7.45pm, Donetsk (ITV1) Ref N Rizzoli (It) Odds: Spain 4-5 Draw 5-2 France 4-1

Suspended: France Mexès

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Jodie Stimpson crosses the finishing line to win gold in the women's triathlon
Commonwealth games
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan stars as Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades of Grey movie
filmFirst look at Jamie Dornan in Fifty Shades of Grey trailor
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Life and Style
Phillips Idowu, Stella McCartney and Jessica Ennis
fashionMcCartney to continue designing Team GB Olympics kit until 2016
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game