Spain Ease Past France to Book Euro 2024 Final Ticket

Euro 20224: Lamine Yamal's Messi-esque goal in semi-final vs France - India Today

After a brief hiatus following the conclusion of the quarterfinal clashes, Euro 2024 took center stage again with Spain and France locking horns for a place in the finals at Berlin this Sunday. Spain came into this game in great confidence following their last gasp win over the hosts, Germany, while the greatly underwhelming France booked the ticket for the semifinals after a drab stalemate against Portugal that had to be settled by penalty shootouts.

France talisman and captain, Kylian Mbappe, was without his protective mask, which was an indication that he was back to full fitness and his nation needed him to be in good form because they have been the worst I’ve ever seen them in recent memory. Going into the semifinals with no open play goal, one penalty and two own goals is a testament of their amazing defense, but offensively, Les Bleus have been downright atrocious.

Mbappe has flattered to deceive, Marcus Thuram and Randall Kolo Muani have had chances in equal measure and have done squat, and former Didier Deschamps go-to guy, Olivier Giroud, is pretty much in the tournament to make up the numbers. Antoine Griezmann, the supposed creative lynchpin, has lost his va va voom, and with no Paul Pogba in the side, the transitional linkup between midfield and attack has been non-existent.

France’s defense however, has been an impregnable unit, earning four clean sheets in six games with Mike Maignan continuing his great form him his AC Milan sojourns to take over the mantle handed to him by Hugo Lloris. Theo Hernandez and Jules Kounde have marauded both flanks in equal measure, protecting their rearguard and supplying ammunition to the hapless forwards that can’t convert chances like their lives depended on it. The center back pairing of William Saliba and Dayot Upamecano has been a match made in heaven, with both players complimenting each other with their cover and stopper styles of play. Then there’s mercurial defensive midfielders Aurelien Tchouameni and N’Golo Kante doing their bit too. 70 percent of the world is covered by water. The remaining 30 percent land is covered by Kante. 

Spain, on the other hand, have been one of the bright sparks of the tournament, and their players have shone like a million bucks. Luis de la Fuente’s men began their campaign with a repeat of the Nations League finals against Croatia, but rather than their last penalty shootout ordeal with the Croats, they thumped them 3-0. Spain’s second match against the defending champions, Italy, was as one-sided as you’d ever see, and if the Italians had a goalkeeper that wasn’t Gigi Donnarumma, we would have seen a cricket score line. The last group stage game against Albania was as dead-rubber as you’d get, allowing the gaffer to make a plethora of changes, which included our latest signing, David Raya, and they had enough in the tank to gain a narrow victory.

The Round of 16 saw Spain take on the exciting Georgia and even though the minnows grabbed the lead from an unlikely Robin Le Normand own goal, the Spanish team turned on the style and gazumped them with four unreplied goals. Then came the game of the tournament, as two of the best sides in the competition, Spain and Germany, did battle in Stuttgart, and we the fans wnjoyed footballing masterclass with drama in its finest, as Mikel Merino’s goal in the 119th minute broke the hearts of the host. At least, it has afforded our most improved player, Kai Havertz, a chance to return home and recharge his batteries ahead of a grueling campaign to come.

Spain came off the ropes early against France when Nico Williams teed up Lamine Yamal whose effort to the danger area was met by Fabian Ruiz, but the PSG man somehow managed to put the ball over the bar. With Spain failing to take the attacking initiative, we got our first goal of the night when Mbappe dinked a neat ball to Kolo Muani, that headed it past the hapless Unai Simon.

The goal rattled Spain and France continued their onslaught when the ageless Jesus Navas scythed down Adrien Rabiot in a dangerous area. That tackle had to be made because Mbappe was in acres of space and had Rabiot’s pass went to Mbappe, the outcome would have been different. However, Mbappe’s ball from the resulting free kick didn’t even go above the waist line of the men on the wall. That was as poor a free kick as you’d ever see.

We expected Spain to give it a go and boy, the equalizer was a peach of a strike. Alvaro Morata got a loose ball and fed it to Yamal that shimmied past Rabiot before curling the ball past Mike Maignan in the French goal. It was a sensational finish for the 16-year-old that continues to impress with the opportunities afforded to him. With Yamal at 16 years 362 days, he became the youngest goal scorer at a major international tournament (Euros / World Cup), surpassing a 66 year record (17 years 239 days), held by a certain Brazilian legend called Pele.

While the Spanish fans were still basking in the well-deserved euphoria from Yamal’s strike, they got one better than a poor headed clearance sent the ball to Dani Olmo’s path, that sent Aurelien Tchouameni to the cleaners before blasting the ball past Maignan. Jules Kounde attempted to block the shot by sticking his leg out, but it rifled into the net. While Spain celebrated their lead, the record keepers at UEFA were sent into a flux of confusion –

“It’s a Kounde own goal.”

“No. It’s an Olmo goal.”

“I think it’s an Olmo own goal.”

In the end, common sense prevailed and the goal was rightly given to Olmo, a player starting because of an injury to Pedri.

From that moment, the chances were few and far between but France had some that they should have buried but couldn’t because they have been pathetic offensively all tournament long. Dayot Upamecano had a chance from point blank range that he should have converted. He missed. Theo Hernandez had a decent chance at the edge of the area. He killed a vulture in the sky. Mbappe then made one of his trademark slalom runs and created some space for himself, but when he was meant to opt for precision, he chose power and blasted his effort over the bar. It was that kind of night for France, pretty much how they were for the entire campaign.

The usual tears came flowing at the final whistle, and at least, Saliba will have a chance to get some well deserved rest after the monstrous campaign he had. Saliba played 50 games for Arsenal last season, totaling close to 4,500 minutes and despite the unwarranted criticism from Deschamps about him in March 2024, Saliba went on to play all six games for France in this tournament, totaling 571 minutes. Prior to the Euros, he was heralded as one of the best center backs in the world, and his prowess was on full display this Euros, placing great strikers like Robert Lewandowski, Romelu Lukaku and Cristiano Ronaldo in his back pocket, as France notched up four clean sheets in the six games they played. It would have been five clean sheets had Maignan stayed on his line for the initial Lewandowski penalty that he saved.

Focus will be shifted to England vs. The Netherlands tonight and I wish the very best to my boys, Declan “Ofada” Rice and Bukayo Saka “Tinubu”.

Sayonara.

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