KIEV — Spain must beat France in a competitive football match for the first time today if they are to reach the Uefa Euro 2012 semi-finals and the latest French squabbling can only have boosted their chances of finally vanquishing Les Bleus in a major tournament.
Off-pitch quarrels among the French players led to an ignominious early exit from the 2010 World Cup and officials and players have admitted that fur was flying again after Tuesday’s 2-0 Group D loss to Sweden.
Holders Spain, by contrast, have presented a typically upbeat and united front ahead of the quarter-final in Donetsk, the winners of which will meet Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal or the Czech Republic in the last four.
Of the six tournament meetings between Spain and France, the French have won five, including a 2-1 quarterfinal victory at Euro 2000 when Spain’s Raul missed a late penalty and a 3-1 success in a last-16 clash at the 2006 World Cup.
Raul’s successor at centre forward Fernando Torres believes his team learned a lesson from the World Cup reverse that helped turn them into world champions and said it was high time Spain ended their poor run against the French.
As well as Torres, goalkeepers Iker Casillas and Pepe Reina, midfielders Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Cesc Fabregas and Andres Iniesta and defender Sergio Ramos all survive from the squad for the France match in Hanover six years ago.
“We hope that this time our experience will tip the balance in favour of Spain,” Torres said on his personal website on Thursday.
“It’s always a good time to end a negative streak and this national team is used to breaking records and defying predictions,” the 28-year-old added.
“We are hoping that France do not rediscover their best form but if they do we will be prepared. Today, Spain is very tough to beat when on top form.”
While Spain have a full squad available, France coach Laurent Blanc will have to do without the suspended Philippe Mexes and the inexperienced Laurent Koscielny will pair up with Adil Rami in central defence.
Blanc is expected to field Yohan Cabaye again in the midfield with Alou Diarra and Yann Mvila, with Karim Benzema and Franck Ribery playing with Jeremy Menez up front and Samir Nasri on the bench, at least at the start.
Real Madrid’s Benzema, who knows the Spanish players well from La Liga, told reporters after the Sweden game that one positive about Spain’s possession-based playing style was that there was usually plenty of space and France would be trying to exploit it.
“Spain will be the favourites, they are one of the best teams in the world,” he added.
Midfielder Florent Malouda picked out his Chelsea teammate Torres, who appears to be coming back into form after a long fallow period, as Spain’s dangerman.
“He ended the season very well and he will be looking to show he is one of the best strikers in the world,” Malouda said on Wednesday. “He is a threat. He can score two or three goals and blow up the whole defence on his own.”