PREVIEW: Spain v France – missing players and battles to watch ahead of first EURO2024 semifinal

It wouldn’t have been too far fetched to predict three weeks ago that both Spain and France would be among the last four of this summer’s European Championships. Didier Deschamps’ team have now been semifinalists in three of their last four major tournaments, and while Spain have not reached a major tournament final since their EUROs victory in 2012, they made it to the last four in 2021 and have a modern footballing history unlike any other. These are two of the greatest footballing dynasties in Europe, and pretty likely semifinalists. What’s surprising is their journey to this stage of the competition, in which one has outperformed expectations and one has scraped through – and it’s not the way round you would think.

Spain are never a team to be counted out – after all, they entered the tournament on the back of a Nations League victory and strong qualification campaign – but they definitely weren’t among the favourites for the title like their opponents France. However, they’ve impressed crowds with their free-flowing football, bright young wingers, and a new adaptability that both harks back to their early-2010s golden generation and looks like an improvement on it. Manager Luis de la Fuente speaks glowingly of their work ethic and it seems like his adoration of his players is reciprocated. For the first time in a while, la Roja look like a team playing to win – not playing to rebuild after a fall from grace.

(Photo by Jasmin Walter – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

Les Bleus, meanwhile, are a trickier team to unpack at this tournament. Starting with the positives, and as Ousmane Dembélé and Didier Deschamps were very quick to point out after their quarterfinal victory, they’re in the last four – that doesn’t happen by accident and their defensive record so far should be applauded. Against the likes of Portugal, the Netherlands, and Austria, they’ve conceded only a penalty from Robert Lewandowski in the group stages (excluding a 5-3 shootout victory over Portugal) – that means they have four clean sheets from five, an excellent record. Mike Maignan’s performance in net has been impressive, while N’Golo Kanté has fully justified his selection with some incredible defending and William Saliba has been a rock at the back.

However, it’s a good job that they’ve defended so well, because they’ve barely scored. In fact, of the three goals France have scored so far, only one was by a French player – Kylian Mbappé from the penalty spot – and the other two were own goals. They have lacked the attacking impetus you would expect from the likes of Mbappé, Antoine Griezmann, and Marcus Thuram to name just a few. For context, France have fewer goals to their name this tournament than Kylian Mbappé scored in the 2022 World Cup final.

They’ll need to improve on that record to get past de la Fuente’s side, who are the only team to have won every game at the tournament so far. Spain have also shown an impressive ability to win without necessarily totally dominating possession, which used to be a key characteristic of their victories in years gone by. France cannot rely on hanging on to the ball and hoping a chance comes their way, because Spain can strike at any time – just ask the hosts Germany, who were knocked out by them in the 119th minute in the quarterfinal despite enjoying a slim majority of possession. Nobody has been able to stop this Spanish team scoring so far, and France are unlikely to be an exception despite their great defensive record so far. To reach the final, Deschamps’ side need to find the cutting edge they’ve been lacking all tournament.

What is the latest team news?

While Spain’s quarterfinal victory will largely be a huge confidence boost for them and a cautionary tale for their opponents, there will be a hangover from that match that could actually tip that balance in France’s favour. The referee was doling out cards like a middle-class mum at Christmas – six to be precise, though two were for Dani Carvajal – and has left Carvajal and his defensive colleague Robin le Normand suspended for the semifinals. Carvajal receives an automatic one-match ban for his sending off, whereas le Normand accumulated enough yellows to warrant the same punishment. Luckily, the yellow card record has now been ‘wiped’ after the end of the quarterfinals, so nobody can be suspended for the final through accumulated bookings – though a red card in the semifinal would still have the same effect of a one-match ban.

So de la Fuente will have to make at least two enforced defensive changes to the team that beat Germany, possibly meaning starts for Nacho Fernández and Jesús Navas. But that’s not all – Pedri came off after sustaining what we now know is a knee sprain in a challenge by Toni Kroos, putting him out of contention. Quarterfinal man of the match Dani Olmo and Fabián Ruiz are also carrying knocks – but it’s hoped Olmo at least could be fit, and he will likely take Pedri’s place in the lineup after his impressive showing off the bench.

(Photo by Alex Caparros – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

France have no disciplinary bans, with Adrien Rabiot back from the suspension that saw him miss their clash with Portugal. Deschamps will be relieved to have all his defenders at his disposal; the only slight question mark (and at the end of the day, it’s not much of one) is actually Kylian Mbappé. As mentioned, France’s captain doesn’t seem to have brought his shooting boots with him to Germany – but he’s also contending with a broken nose that appears to be causing him some difficulty, and was substituted before the penalty shootout in the quarterfinals.

In Friday’s post-match conference, Deschamps told the press Mbappé had been tired and it seemed normal to him to replace him with fresh legs. All that might relegate a lesser man to the bench, but it seems almost unthinkable that Deschamps would leave his country’s talisman for their recent major tournament success out of the lineup in a game this crucial. The only other dilemma is whether Ousmane Dembélé, who impressed after coming off the bench in the last game, would be chosen over Marcus Thuram or Randal Kolo Muani.

Who will be the key players?

For France, the defence’s mission will be largely to keep doing what they’ve done so far – Mike Maignan particularly has been the keeper of the tournament and will be well tested by Spain’s young wingers Nico Williams and Lamine Yamal. William Saliba and N’Golo Kanté have been particularly impressive at the heart of the French team and will be instrumental in front of Maignan in breaking up Spain’s flow. However, a key feature of this new-look Spanish team is their width – so fullbacks Jules Koundé and Théo Hernández must be on top form. The real, difference, though will come at the top. If there was ever a time France needed Kylian Mbappé, it’s now – the captain could well make the difference if he can end his goalscoring drought.

In the Spanish corner, they will need an attacking midfield maestro to break down France’s defense and to link up the devastating pace of Williams and Yamal. That man could well be Dani Olmo. He provided a goal and an assist in Spain’s 2-1 victory over Germany and that was from the bench; with Pedri out, he’s likely to have a full 90 minutes (minimum) to play with. Away from Olmo, the pressure is also on for the defence – they’ve held pretty fast so far, but if France do decide this is the time to start scoring goals, they have formidable opponents to contend with. With le Normand and Carvajal ruled out, Spain’s right side will be defended by players with far fewer minutes in the tournament so far – the battle down there, particularly if that’s where Mbappé is positioned, will be very interesting indeed.

What time is kickoff and how can I watch?

Spain v France is scheduled to kick off at 20:00 BST [21:00 CEST] at Munich’s Allianz Arena on Tuesday 9th July. The game will be live on BBC One for viewers in the United Kingdom

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