3 Things We Learnt From Spain 2-1 France

3 Things We Learnt From Spain 2-1 France

10/07/24 09:34

In what was a breathless, high quality, end to end semi final showdown, Spain battled to a superb 2-1 victory over pre tournament favorites France as starlet Lamine Yamal announced himself on the big stage.

With one side of the Euro 2024 final now set in stone, let’s look at the game in more detail, and discuss three things we learnt.

Lamine Yamal is an extraordinary talent

What. A. Goal. Spain, who had trailed for just 11 minutes after Randal Kolo-Muani’s well taken header, and had dominated since conceding, fed the ball to Yamal, who had been the hub of their creativity on the right-hand side throughout the tournament up to this point. Cutting in from his resident right wing, faking a shot, twisting and turning, he eventually created just enough space to send a sensational curling, dipping effort past the straining hand of Mike Maignan into the top corner of the France goal via the inside of the post, all while being 25 yards out. It’s the stuff that a teenager's dreams are made of.

And yet what makes this goal so unbelievable is that Yamal still is a teenager, a mere 16 years old. Granted he’ll be 17 by the time the final comes around, but to even attempt such an audacious effort, let alone score a wonder goal with it, on such a big stage under so much pressure takes generational cojones from a player of such a tender age.

Labeled as the next Lionel Messi by Barcelona’s youth programme “La Masia”, last night's showing was a clear message that this kid now needs to be taken seriously. The goal and so many similarities to Messi that it’s hard to ignore the comparison. He obviously has an intimidatingly long way to go if he is to match his Barcelona predecessor, but at least after last night, many will be watching his career with great interest.

France head home with a rethink on their hands.

Prior to this tournament, France under the reign of coach Didier Deschamps had grown something of a reputation for playing what fans were calling “boring football”. These accusations were leveled at the French coach again in his pre-semi final press conference, but he showed no signs of departing from his well established game plan, responding: “If you’re getting bored, watch another game.”

The difference is that in the past, France has always found a way to make it work. Reaching the final in three of the last four major tournaments, including at the last two World Cup’s, France seemed to have mastered the art of winning ugly. This tournament, their strategy backfired tremendously. I have had the daunting task of covering every France game at this Euros, and I can truthfully say that they never looked like kicking into anything more than second gear. The following stats are damming in the least:

  • They only won two games outright in 90 minutes, and probably didn’t deserve to against Austria.
  • The first goal scored by a French player from open play came in their 530th minute of Euro 2024 (Kolo Muani’s header against Spain.)
  • Their top marksman was the sought after own goal, with two goals, while Mbappe and Kolo-Muani reside on one.
  • France had the worst shot conversion of any nation at the tournament, averaging 0.04 goals per shot on target.

Deschamps methods may have worked in the past, but with such a talented squad, and with the pre-tournament label of favorites, going out in the semi finals can only be deemed as a failure for the French. There are plenty of rumours swirling around as to whether Deschamps keeps his role as head coach, but in my opinion, if France are to make progress before the 2026 World Cup, they need someone new at the helm more suited to guiding such a squad of superstars,

The Spanish have been locked in since their first group game, where they made Croatia look like amateurs with a 3-0 win. Dominating the ball, the territory, and almost everything else, Germany have thus far been the only side to hang with them for an extended period.

The only weakness I have so far been able to spot in their game is the distribution of goalkeeper Unai Simon. In each knockout game, he has attempted a lofted pass to one of the four players across the back line that either has, or very nearly did, go wrong.

A prime example occurred in the second half of their semi final against Germany, when Simon’s scuffed kick was impossible for Aymeric Laporte to control, sending Kai Havertz through on goal. On that occasion, Germany weren’t able to capitalize, but silly errors in a final tend to be punished more than most, so Simon can’t afford a single lapse in concentration. He had a howler last Euros as well, where he let a Pedri back pass squirm under his feet and into his own net in Spain's memorable 5-3 win over Croatia. So there is certainly precedent.

It is also worth noting that Spain performed a very similar game plan to England against France. Once they took the lead through Dani Olmo’s rifled low drive, they dropped off, and allowed the opposition to come onto them, effectively playing for counter attacking scenarios. While a blunt France attack couldn’t find a way through, there are no guarantees that things will play out the same way when they face England or the Netherlands in the tournament's showpiece match.

If they do end up facing England, then at least they’ll both be familiar with each other's game plans against big sides …

Benji Kosartiyer
Harry Pascoe

Football Writer


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