Thoughts and recap: France 1-1 Spain

This was a game of two halves with Spain controlling the first with patient buildup play and France dominating the second on the counter.

France defended very deep in the first half with a bank of five in midfield in front of the back four. Only Benzema stayed behind the ball. The deep defensive line allowed Spain's midfield to comfortably dictate the tempo of the game. Very little pressure was put on Xavi and Xabi Alonso in deeper areas. Fabregas, Cazorla and Iniesta all looked to get in space between France's midfield and back four and combined for some tidy interchanges in these areas. Spain caused France the most trouble when they were able to get in between the seams, turn and face the back four, and slide balls in behind the back four.

France should have taken a lesson from Portugal manager Paulo Bento's excellent tactical set up against Spain in the Euros. Bento played his midfielders higher up the pitch and pressed Xabi Alonso and Xavi when they got in possession around the midfield line. This broke up Spain's rhythm and halted service into their more advanced playmakers. The plan was to win possession back higher up the field and then quickly counter through Nani and Ronaldo on the wings. Although Ronaldo missed a decent chance and Portugal never got the goal they needed, the plan frustrated Spain into playing more long passes than they would have liked and the game ultimately ended 0-0.

By playing such a deep line, France gave Spain's deeper lying players the opportunity to pick their heads up and find a penetrating pass forward. Xavi and Xabi Alonso are brilliant passers more than capable of threading a decisive ball through tight areas. France were clearly looking to counter when they did win the ball back. However, with the defense sitting so deep and inviting pressure, when they did win back possession it was in and around their own 18. Spain were able to press immediately, denying France a decent outlet pass and forcing them to launch hopeful long balls for Benzema that Spain were comfortably able to win back. They needed to win the ball back higher up the field to spark quick counters.

 In the second half France finally started pressing the Spanish midfield higher up the pitch, unsettling the rhythm they had been able to establish in the first half. Deschamps replaced Menez and Gonalons with more combative midfielders Moussa Sissoko and Blaise Matuidi. Both were outstanding, continuously nicking possession from Spain in midfield and spring dangerous counter attacks, mainly through Valbuena, Ribery and Benzema. They looked excellent on the counter, creating several dangerous scoring opportunities only to be spoiled by some wasteful finishing. The breakthrough finally came in the last minute of stoppage time when Juanfran inexplicably gave the ball way in midfield, allowing one final France counter forward. Matuidi picked the ball off Juanfran and released Ribery down the left. He crossed in for second half substitute Olivier Giroud who made no mistake, heading in on the last play of the game. France were deservedly rewarded for their adventurous play in the second half.