France are set to face defending champions Spain in the eagerly awaited Euro 2012 quarter-final clash on Saturday. If Les Bleus are to hold any hope of triumphing against the odds they must win the key battles on the pitch.
AFP - The individual battles that will help decide the outcome of Saturday's Euro 2012 quarter-final between defending champions Spain and France at Donetsk's Donbass Arena:
Alvaro Arbeloa (ESP) v Franck Ribery (FRA)
Spain may have boasted the tightest defence in the group phase, with just one goal conceded, but if there is a weak link in the back four, it is Arbeloa.
The Real Madrid right-back is a sturdy and dependable performer but he does not share left-back Jordi Alba's explosive pace and may therefore struggle to contain the roaming Ribery.
The Frenchman loves to cut infield onto his stronger right foot, either to link up with Karim Benzema or shoot at goal directly, and the right-footed Arbeloa tends to cope better with players who attack him down the line.
"We will have to be at (Ribery) all the time," says Juanfran, Arbeloa's deputy at right-back. "He has so much quality that he could score a goal at any moment or find a colleague with a threaded pass."
Gerard Pique (ESP) v Karim Benzema (FRA)
The Spain defenders who know Benzema best are his Real Madrid colleagues Arbeloa and Sergio Ramos, but the France striker's habit of drifting to the left is likely to bring him into direct confrontation with Barcelona's Pique.
Pique is also familiar with his opponent due to previous clashes in El Clasico, but it was Benzema who emerged on top in 2011-12, plundering 21 goals as Madrid wrenched the La Liga title from Barca's grasp.
Pique was dropped for the title decider against Madrid at Camp Nou in April, amid reports that coach Pep Guardiola was concerned by his lack of focus and application during matches.
The elegant centre-back will have to be at his watchful best on Saturday, with Benzema prone to wandering into midfield to pick up the ball in order to run at the opposition defence.
Andres Iniesta (ESP) v Yohan Cabaye (FRA)
Spain's outstanding player during the group phase, Iniesta has eclipsed the displays of his Barcelona colleague Xavi and will be central to Spain's hopes of beating France.
In a team occasionally derided for keeping possession in sterile fashion, Iniesta is the player who can be relied upon to provide the vertical forward bursts that often yield goalscoring opportunities.
Cabaye is renowned more for his passing than his defensive capabilities, but his position on the right side of France's midfield trio means he is likely to find himself in Iniesta's vicinity when the Spaniard receives the ball.
The Newcastle United midfielder has been instructed to play further up the pitch by France assistant coach Jean-Louis Gasset, but he may have to rein in his attacking instincts if France are to keep Iniesta under wraps.
Fernando Torres (ESP) v Laurent Koscielny (FRA)
After being dropped for Spain's opening game with Italy, Torres scored twice on his return to Vicente del Bosque's starting XI in the 4-0 win over Ireland.
He failed to find the net in the 1-0 defeat of Croatia but he brings a cutting edge to the team that Spain simply do not possess when Del Bosque floods his forward line with midfielders, as he did against Italy.
Koscielny comes into the France line-up in place of the suspended Philippe Mexes, and will be making his first ever competitive appearance for Les Bleus.
Communication with his fellow centre-back, Adil Rami, will be vital, as Torres is liable to drag his marker to the side of the pitch in order to create space for Iniesta, Xavi and David Silva to attack.
"They like to move around a lot," says Koscielny.
"Sometimes there are no players in the centre and then, in the space of two or three passes, three or four arrive."
Date created : 2012-06-22