Five things we learnt from Spain 2-1 France

That was special. There was something very EURO2008 about what Spain just achieved. After 0-0 draws, extra times and penalties as far as the eye can see, Spain and France just showed what can happen when two juggernauts lock horns.

But moreover Spain showed – as if we needed reminding – that they are the real deal. France have had the best defence in the tournament, but Spain didn’t care. They’ve had the uncanny ability to wear down opponents with nothing but sweat and determination, but Spain didn’t care. They have Kylian Mbappé, but Spain did not care.

Nor did they need to. They swept France aside with relative ease. Lamine Yamal scored maybe the best goal a teenager has ever scored at the top level. He’s the youngest scorer in EUROs history. Dani Olmo showed that maybe he should’ve been starting all along, and the defence proved that they can hang onto a result if need be. It was a complete performance. It was total football.

Here are five things we learnt from Spain’s 2-1 win over France.

If you’re good enough, you’re old enough

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

There have been lots of talented teenage footballers. There have been very good teenage footballers. There have even been great teenage footballers. Then there’s Lamine Yamal. In a parallel universe, he’s finishing up his first year of college having sat his GCSEs only last summer. But, in this universe, he’s just scored perhaps the best goal at EURO2024 against the best keeper at the back of the best defence.

It’s a goal that’s been coming, too. He’d been so unlucky not to score before today and had already bagged two assists. Among his brushstroke dribbles, airtight first touches and pinpoint passing, all he’d missed was that goal. Today he didn’t just score that goal, but whipped in an unbelievable strike from 30 yards out, and today he announced that he’s not just another teenage wonderkid: he’s one of the best players in the world.

System trumps stars

France were joint favourites to win the EUROs before a ball was kicked and it’s easy to see why – they have some of the best footballers in the world. Theo Hernández might be the best left back; his opposite number Jules Koundé might be the best on the right. Few top William Salbia at centre back, few top N’Golo Kanté at the base of midfield. Not many can dribble with as much childlike expression as Ousmane Dembélé and there aren’t many as poised and intelligent as Antoine Griezmann. Kylian Mbappé might be the greatest footballer on the planet full stop.

But today they lost to a forcibly rotated Spain side because they knew exactly what was needed of them and exactly how to fit Luis de la Fuente’s brilliant system. Nacho Fernández hasn’t been a regular starter, nor has Jesús Navas, nor even Dani Olmo (as much as he probably should’ve been). 25 of their 26-man squad have pulled on a Spanish shirt this tournament. Only 18 have for France. What wins you silverware is how deep your iceberg goes.

Chances don’t come from thin air

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

France had no creator-in-chief today and it showed. The midfield three of Kanté, Tchouaméni and Rabiot is a talented one, yes, but none of them are creators: they completed a single key pass between them and two of them were hooked after chasing shadows. You do need someone to do the dirty work, but if the entire midfield has that as their role, where do you go from there? The plan simply cannot be ‘give it to Mbappé and see what happens.’ He can only do so much. No wonder, then, that Randal Kolo Muani’s early header was their first (and only) goal in open play at this entire tournament.

Spain, on the other hand, had a midfield three who can all create. Even Rodri, their designated play-breaker-upper, has a better passing range than most attacking midfielders. France didn’t have a metronome nor someone who can play that killer ball today and they haven’t had one all tournament: put simply, they haven’t had a Paul Pogba.

Style and substance are not mutually exclusive

England and France were the favourites for this tournament and all the discourse around the two is about how they get results, not whether they’ll get them. Yes, both sides made the final four and yes, one could still go and win the whole thing. But, for want of a better word, their football has been boring. Dour. Turgid. Like trench warfare: wars of attrition bogged down by tarry mud.

And then there’s Spain, who have been football’s answer to a force of nature; a lightning bolt, stunningly beautiful to watch but with the devastating potential to cause real damage. It is possible to get results and play well along the way. If you’ve got a good enough system, good enough players and some creative license, incredible things can happen. Football is about how it makes you feel, and Spain have evoked nothing but joyous excitement. There’s no ‘here we go again’ when they play. Whenever they take to the pitch it’s an occasion, it’s exciting, it’s a spectacle. And they get the job done. Both are possible, and this tournament would’ve benefited from just one or two other teams taking a leaf out of that book.

Spain are the real winners of EURO2024

Should they go on and lose the final, obviously Spain will not be the real winners. But if tournaments were decided on who deserves to win the most, they’d have already won at a canter, and they should, if all goes to plan, come away with the trophy regardless. The Netherlands have shown they’re more competent than many expected (and the prospect of a replay of the 2010 World Cup final is quite simply mouthwatering for the football purist) and England are… well, England – but Spain have the quality to run rings round both of them.

They’ve beaten the holders, the hosts and the favourites to get this far. Italy, Germany and now France have all fallen at their feet. They’re astoundingly suave going forwards and gritty when they need to be. Everyone in the team has a place and everyone has helped them get this far. Luis de la Fuente has set up a squad with remarkable competence. It’s not quite Vicente del Bosque. It’s not quite 70% of the ball game in, game out. But they can adapt and, today, holding out diligently among a French onslaught at the end, they held on. There is simply no side better. If this game has taught us absolutely anything, it’s that you’d be understood for betting your house on red ribbons lining the Henri Delaunay Cup come Sunday evening.

You can keep up with all the drama right at the end of EURO2024 right here at FromTheSpot.


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