Midfielder Xabi Alonso celebrated his 100th international cap in style, scoring two goals to lift Spain to a 2-0 victory over France on Saturday at the European championship in Donetsk, Ukraine.
When the Spaniards decide they want to take over a match, there are few nations that have the ability to withstand the pressure.
This includes a French team that’s owned them on the international stage.
Prior to its quarter-final matchup, Spain had lost all six international matches against France — the most recent loss coming at the 2006 World Cup and, the last major tournament it was eliminated from.
Since their loss six years ago, the Spaniards have won Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup, shedding their label of underachievers. Still, between those two titles the French beat Spain twice.
France represented an opponent no Spanish side could topple. The feeling heading into the match was the speed of France could give Spain’s ball control attack some problems.
Yet Spain was carrying out the same script it always does. The Spaniards controlled ball possession for more than 60 per cent and completed an amazing 90 per cent of their passes in the first half.
Alonso set the tone early with a brilliant finish in the 19th minute, aided by two equally beautiful passes.
Midfielder Andres Iniesta began the play by sending a lead ball down the left wing to Jordi Alba, who made a nice move around French defender Mathieu Debuchy before chipping a cross to Alonso.
The Real Madrid player made no mistaking with his chance, powering a header past defender Gael Clichy and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.
France produced only one serious challenge of the first half in the 32nd minute as midfielder Yohan Cabaye sailed a free kick that Spain goalie Iker Casillas deflected over the cross bar.
Sensing their Euro 2012 appearance was coming to an end, France took it to Spain in the opening stages of the second half, leading to a Debuchy shot that just missed the inside of the crossbar by inches in the 60th minute.
Despite constant criticisms of its defence, Spain did a fine job defending the lead down the stretch. Alonso then finished off his memorial day in extra time, scoring his second goal on a penalty kick.
What this result means
- Spain is inching closer to making soccer history. A victory over Portugal in the semifinal would send Spain to another European championship final. Should they win it all again, the Spaniards would win an unprecedented third straight international major title.
The winning goal
- The scary part of Alonso’s marker was how France made a determined effort to clamp down defensively. But the French were caught standing around and watching Alonso complete a mesmerizing three-way passing effort.
Man of the match
- Alonso gave Spain much more than two goals, he also dictated the play that kept France continually on its heels.
The Spanish perspective
- "We knew this was the most important match and we played very well. Scoring the early goal really made things easier, so I must say we're happy." — Spain midfielder Xabi Alonso
The French perspective
- "When you lose a game there's always something missing, I'm not sure if it's possession or technical ability. The lads gave everything and it's very hard to play against Spain. We blocked their left flank, which is their strong point." — France coach Laurent Blanc