Spain vs France, Euro 2024 semifinal - tactical preview: Mbappe and Co faces biggest test

Spain will fancy its chances of becoming the first team to win six matches in a single edition of the Euros when it takes on France in the semifinal.

Published : Jul 09, 2024 12:49 IST , Chennai - 6 MINS READ

France’s Kylian Mbappe during training.
France’s Kylian Mbappe during training. | Photo Credit: REUTERS

France’s Kylian Mbappe during training. | Photo Credit: REUTERS

The broken nose will not be Kylian Mbappe’s biggest worry when he comes up against an electrifying Spain side in the Euro 2024 semifinal. Instead, France’s wastefulness in front of the goal will take the top spot.

Starting as one of the favourites to win the tournament, France is right where it was expected to be, but somehow Didier Deschamps’ side is yet to display an impressive performance. With three goals in five games and none scored by a French player from open play, the two-time European Championship winner is in desperate need of a first-class showing.

Spain, on the other hand, will be concerned about the absence of pivotal players Dani Carvajal, Robin Le Normand and Pedri, but will fancy its chances of becoming the first team to win six matches in a single edition of the Euros. After a nerve-racking 2-1 win against host Germany, Luis de la Fuente’s men will go into the tie with their eyes on the prize, a record-breaking fourth titlE.

Contrasting outcomes in front of goal

The problem that France is facing is obvious. It simply is not able to score goals. Deschamps made his major competition debut as France manager in the 2014 World Cup, where the team scored 10 goals before bowing out in the quarterfinal. Following this France made it to three finals, scoring 13 in Euro 2016, 14 during the World Cup triumph in 2018 and 16 in the 2022 edition. 

In fact, France scored seven in four games in Euro 2020, where it was ousted by Switzerland on penalties in the round of 16.

Out of the 24 teams taking part in the tournament, Les Bleus have the worst shot conversion rate with 4.8 per cent. They have taken 86 shots at goal so far in the tournament (20 on target) and only have one goal to show for it, Mbappe’s effort from the spot against Poland, while the other two have come in the form of own goals.

READ | Timid France hopes to ‘mask’ attacking weaknesses for a shot at title

On the other hand, Spain is tied with eliminated Germany for most goals in the tournament with 11. Wingers Nico Williams and Lamine Yamal top the charts for expected assists per 90 (at least 250 minutes played) with 0.48 and 0.41. Additionally, 16-year-old Yamal has created more chances than anyone in the squad with 14 and is fourth among all players.

Only one of La Roja’s goals in this tournament originated from the middle while the rest were all generated from the wings. French wingbacks Theo Hernandez and Jules Kounde will have a hefty task on their hands as they come up against the two sprightly wingers, who like to cut back inside and put the ball into the middle of the goal.

Suspensions a silver lining for the French

A red card for Carvajal and a second yellow for Le Normand in its last game means that Spain will have to field veterans Jesus Navas and Nacho Fernandez, who have a combined age of 72 years, up against a goal-hungry Mbappe.

In all its matches so far, France has dominated control of the left flank more than any part of the attacking half. With Hernandez providing width, Mbappe can move closer to the box and link up with Marcus Thuram and Antoine Griezmann/Ousmane Dembele in the middle and on the right, respectively.

With the midfield trio of Aurelien Tchouameni, Adrien Rabiot and N’Golo Kante focusing on control of play, the creative duties have fallen to Kounde and Hernandez, with the former leading the squad charts for most open play chances created (11).

France will also hope that Antoine Griezmann, who has been Deschamps’ trump card for so long, will find his form after having an abysmal outing so far, failing to record a goal or an assist in a major tournament for the first time since the 2014 World Cup.

READ | Ruled by the heart and head, Mikel Merino turns Spain’s unlikely hero

French defence a challenging task for Spain’s firing midfield

Only three of Spain’s goals in the tournament have been scored by the front line while the rest have been contributed by its talented midfield. Fabian Ruiz and Dani Olmo have found the back of the net twice while Rodri, Mikel Merino and Carvajal make up the rest (excluding the one-own goal against Italy).

Olmo, who has predominantly come on as a substitute, has been directly involved in four goals in the tournament so far and is a central ball-carrying threat alongside Yamal and Williams on the wings. He shares the top spot with Ruiz as the Spanish player with the most shots on target (5).

Against France, the duo will be backed up by Rodri, who leads the chart for the most involvement in open-play shot-ending sequences in the tournament (at least 90 minutes played). Among all the players in the squad, the defensive midfielder has the highest successful pass-completion rate in the opponent’s half, finding his compatriots 197 times from an attempted 213.

All this firepower will face their biggest challenge yet as France’s defence has been its most promising aspect of the tournament so far, keeping four clean sheets in five games, conceding only once, and that too from the spot against Poland.

William Saliba, who had an excellent season with Arsenal, has cemented his place as the starting centre-back alongside Dayot Upemacano, backed up by Mike Maignan in goal. Out of all the players remaining in the tournament, Saliba has the second-most clearances (24), only behind Virgil van Dijk (30).

With all three previous meetings between the two nations in European Championship knockouts resulting in the winner going on to win the tournament, football fans will have to eagerly look on as an unstoppable force faces an immovable object, with the victor moving one step closer to continental glory.

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