Xabi Alonso scored a powerful first-half header and added a stoppage-time penalty to help defending champions Spain defeat France 2-0 at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk.
In a vintage performance that saw the Spaniards open the scoring early and play the game out with a majority of the possession, Vicente Del Bosque’s men proved to be too good for Laurent Blanc’s Les Bleus.
After 23 unbeaten outings, the French lost by a similar scoreline to Sweden in their last group stage match, thus setting up this date with Spain that was initially tipped to be England’s.
To their credit, Franck Ribery and his teammates kept pushing forward till the very end but were only rewarded with another Spain goal as Pedro earned a late penalty for Alonso to convert.
Real Madrid midfielder Alonso, who formerly represented Liverpool, had scored his first ever European Championship goal earlier in the night when he powerfully thumped home from Jordi Alba’s precise 19th minute cross.
Ultimately, this quarterfinal match will be remembered for the manner in which Spain typically asserted their strategy and made the opposition chase the ball after scoring early.
Former Germany captain Michael Ballack, whose nation was beaten 1-0 by Spain in similar fashion in both the Euro 2008 final and the World Cup 2010 semifinal, expressed in frustration in the ESPN Studios about the manner in which teams fail to apply the necessary pressure on Spain’s possession game.
The rebuttal came from former U.S. striker Taylor Twellman, who doubts that even the in-form Portugal can stop the Spaniards in next week’s semifinal.
“You just get the feeling that watching them we are watching history. This may be the greatest run we have ever seen a national team have,” Twellman argued.
“Nobody challenges them whatsover and teams playing against them can’t really challenge them because rightfully so, they should be scared. They possess the ball and make you chase them 90 minutes long,” the ex-New England Revolution star concluded.