By Aidan Elder | Chief Sports Writer
We know half of the teams who will make up the semi-finals of Euro 2012 and tonight we get a look at the defending champions. Spain ran rings around the musical statues of Irish defence, but a couple of less impressive performances against Italy and Croatia have raised questions about their ability to deliver at a third major international tournament in a row. France looked like they were coming along nicely until they got well beaten by a Sweden team with one foot in the departure lounge.
I’ll be here for the evening to give you all the live updates, sarcastic comments and most likely old war jokes about the French. You can have an e-chin wag by leaving a comment in the comments section below or give me a holler via Twitter on @PaddyPowerBlog
FULL TIME: Spain 2 – 0 France – Donetsk
9.38pm: Time for another episode of ‘Eamonn Dunphy talks shite’, this time seemingly blaming the French people for their team’s dismal showing tonight. That’s about all the punditry I can handle for one night, so you’ll have to make up your own sarky ripostes to the experts’ opinions.
That’s all from me for tonight. Good night, sleep tight, don’t let Luis Suarez bite.
9.35pm: FULL TIME: There was no four goal thumping, but France were totally outclassed tonight. There was something for everyone in that Spain performance. The naysayers can point to the fact Spain didn’t create a whole lot of chances whilst the believers can fire back with the fact they had lots in reserve and looked like they could up it at any point.
9.32pm: GOAL! ESPANA (as you might have guessed) Xabi Alonso sends Lloris the wrong way and Spain are on course for a showdown with Cristiano Ronaldo and his merry, but rather less talented, men aka Portugal.
9.30pm: PENALTY! Yeah, total penalty. Pedro goes down under a clumsy challenge from Reveillere.
9.28pm: Hold that C major Jean-Pierre – it’s a corner to France. No, carry on … nothing happens from it.
9.25pm: This is disappointing from France. They’re losing to Spain and with five minutes to go, they still haven’t started a stirring rendition of the Fields of Athenry. What’s the point of going to a major championship if you’re not going to sing a mournful dirge as you’re getting knocked out?!
9.24pm: Spain make their final substitution and Iniesta makes way for Cazorla.
9.21pm: Torres nearly scores, but he was offside, so it’s pointless going into too much detail. With under ten minutes to go, the draw is now 13/2 and your grip of sanity is loosening if you’re tempted by that.
9.19pm: It’s France’s last futile throw of the dice. Laurent Blanc calls an unhappy M’Vila ashore and sends on alleged new Arsenal striker, Oliver Giroud.
9.16pm: It’s a yellow card for Jeremy Menez as he gets mouthy at the referee for no real reason.
9.13pm: Speaking of stuff I have to mention, it’s time for some chat about the live betting for this game. You can back France to get back into it and force a draw at 5/1. If you’re a wee bit mental.
9.11pm: Ribery again does well on the left and Casillas kind of saves. It’s not really a chance, but it has been slim pickings for France tonight, so I have to mention it.
9.10pm: Spain hang on to the ball and then just as the French defence start to fall asleep, they strike. This time Pedro narrowly picks out Laurent Koscielny’s foot rather than Fernando Torres.
9.07pm: MORE SUBSTITUTION TIME! Fernando Torres gets his chance to shine as Cesc Fabregas gets a chance to sit in the Chelsea man’s ass-groove.
9.05pm: SUBSTITUTION TIME! France make two changes. Nasri comes on for the rather crap Malouda and Menez comes on for the less crap Debuchy. Spain bring on Pedro and give David Silva the hook. Or as they say in Spain, ‘el hook.’
9.02pm: More pressure from France, but Spain get the ball back and Harlem Globetrot their way down the pitch. Fabregas is denied by Lloris who is quick off his line to intercept a delightful through ball from Xavi.
9.01pm: France’s best effort of the game so far. Although that’s not saying a whole lot. Debuchy puts a header narrowly over the crossbar after some good work from Ribery on the left.
8.58pm: France have a corner, but Franck Ribery expertly picks out a Spanish defender at the back post, crushing my hopes that something interesting was about to happen.
8.51pm: France enjoy a spell of possession, but the work-rate of the Spanish players neutralises any danger. The last time I saw a team look so toothless, I had to cancel the 6am training sessions for the Gentle Oaks Retirement Home Over 80s 2nd XI.
Boom boom! Better hope the game picks up or there’ll be more of this crap.
8.45pm: Laurent Blanc emerges from the tunnel looking like a maths teacher who just realised his class aren’t getting trigonometry. Spain start the second period.
8.37pm: The RTE panel aren’t predicting much of a come-back from France. I’d have to agree. This is the least convincing French performance I’ve seen since Gordon Kaye in ‘Allo ‘Allo:
8.31pm: HALF TIME It’s looking very easy for Spain, even though the scoreline tells us they’re only one sucker-punch away from being pegged back. France are looking about as threatening as … well … a Frenchman in wartime. (you knew it was going to happen sooner or later)
8.30pm: One minute of added time at the end of the first half. And that’s about all anyone wants.
8.27pm: It’s a yellow card for Cabaye. He gets booked for the little know offence of ‘looking dangerously French.’ Or more likely, a slightly late stamping on the foot of Sergio Busquets.
8.22pm: Spain indulge in some more toying with France. They end up with a corner, but Pique misses a great chance from a free header. Doesn’t matter, it’s not looking like France will score.
8.15pm: Sergio Ramos gets booked for catching Benzema with a shoulder. It’s the kind of thing that happens in packed bars all over the world with no trouble every minute of the day, but when it happens on the football pitch, it’s a yellow card. I mean, Benzema didn’t even spill any of his pint. Cabaye tests Casillas with a shot from the free-kick that never looked like it was going in.
8.13pm: I’ve heard disturbing reports from the ground that a Mexican wave has broken out. Shameful stuff. I hope they find the person responsible and ban him or her from dull Euro 2012 quarter-finals forever.
Or make him or her watch dull Euro 2012 quarter-finals forever.
8.09pm I don’t know what I want more. France to get hammered 5-0 so I can claim there was a worse performance at Euro 2012 than Ireland’s 4-0 thumping. Or the more long-running revenge of the French bravely getting back into the match only for Cesc Fabregas to basketball dribble and then slam dunk the ball into the net, unnoticed by the referee, linesman or pointless 5th/6th official. Hmmm … *strokes chin like an evil, but slightly bored genius*
8.03pm: GOAL! ESPANA! It’s a strangely un-Spanish goal. They do their ‘knocking it around neatly’ bit, but then Alba whips a ball into the penalty and Xabi Alonso powers a header beyond Hugo Lloris. They’ll be punting the ball towards John Fashanu’s head before we know it.
8pm: Like a body-building carpenter who’s on strike, Spain are starting to flex a bit of muscle, but haven’t actually carved out any openings. There’ll be a lot more weird analogies like that if this game doesn’t pick up soon.
7.55pm: It’s a bit boring at the moment, so here’s a little known fact time. Many people think the phrase Tiki-Taka was an onomatopoeic term coined to describe the rapid passing of the Spanish team. In actual fact, it came about by accident when a Spanish commentator offered his co-commentator a low calorie, low sugar small mint.
7.52pm: Xabi Alonso tries an ‘Alonso’ from long range, trying to catch out Lloris. In fairness, he’s the player most qualified ‘to do an Alonso’ as he is Alonso.
7.51pm: Fabregas has a penalty appeal turned away. He probably has a case, but he makes that annoying ‘I’m SO utterly shocked you didn’t give it’ face that makes it easy to casually dismiss.
7.50pm: Five minutes gone and France haven’t been as shambolic as they were agains Sweden. You might even say they’ve had the better of the dull opening minutes.
7.46pm: France go a minute without someone throwing a hissy-fit. That has to count as a good start for them.
7.45pm: Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one. Good for my word count, but a really annoying way to start a football match. France get the game underway.
7.41pm: No wonder the Spanish players are all so happy to play for their country – no pesky words to the national anthem to learn!
7.40pm: The teams are walking out on the pitch, but before that, Darragh Maloney puts forward the theory that Spain are boring. In response, the members of RTE panel start listing things that are supposedly boring. Turns out listening to people listing things that are boring is boring. Whoda thunk it?
7.35pm: Not long to go until the teams come out and the anthems start. La Marseillaise is brilliant. Even when it’s being whistled by a cockatiel, which, as we all know, is the real test of the quality of a national anthem.
7.25pm: A lot of people were expecting Fernando Torres to start, including our own Euro 2012 pundit, Robbie Fowler. It’s something of a surprise he’s not playing and this picture taken from inside the Spanish dressing room shows none were more surprised than Torres himself:
7.10pm: Good evening one and all, whether you be flicking around the internet whilst the match is on or you’re just too poor to afford a TV. Let’s get stuck right in with some TEAM NEWS.
You know it’s important when I use caps lock and bolding. Spain have decided to go for their ‘orgy of midfielders’ formation. That means Cesc Fabregas starts and Fernando Torres takes up his familiar role on the bench.
Casillas, Arbeloa, Pique, Ramos, Alba, Xavi, Busquets, Alonso, Silva, Fabregas, Iniesta
France have had their usual preparation for the game – lots of in-fighting and egotistical comments. Samir Nasri has been the big loser from the sniping and he gets the selection guillotine in favour of Florent Malouda. Phillip Mexes is suspended, denying French one of their best haircuts and an adequate defender. Arsenal’s red-card magnet, Laurent Koscielny takes his place and Anthony Reveillere comes into the side as right back. Newcastle’s Yohan Cabaye also starts.
Lloris, Reveillere, Rami, Koscielny, Clichy, M’Vila, Debuchy, Cabaye, Malouda, Ribery, Benzema