France try to outfox Spain
DONETSK - The number of short, technically gifted midfielders in France's squad bears testament to Laurent Blanc's admiration for tomorrow's Euro 2012 quarterfinal opponents Spain.
The Spaniards, world and European champions, have risen to the summit of the sport with a game based on rapid passing moves, intuitive movement and aggressive pressing of the opposition.
Since replacing Raymond Domenech after the 2010 World Cup, Blanc has attempted to inculcate a similar approach and his squad is an eloquent demonstration of that ambition.
Blanc has only two genuine strikers at his disposal - Karim Benzema and Olivier Giroud - but can call on a wealth of nimble, creative midfielders such as Samir Nasri, Franck Ribery, Jeremy Menez, Hatem Ben Arfa and Marvin Martin.
He has tried to turn France into a side that dominates its opponents but he admitted that tomorrow, his players will be up against the masters in that domain.
"If you manage to have more possession of the ball than Spain, it'd be an achievement," said the France coach.
With Philippe Mexes suspended after being booked in Tuesday's 2-0 loss to Sweden, Laurent Koscielny will step in alongside Adil Rami in the centre of a France defence charged with the onerous task of resisting the Spanish armada.
Blanc has played down reports of angry exchanges in the changing room following the defeat by Sweden, which ended their 23-game unbeaten run, though he expressed concern at his side's lack of application.
Spain approach the game in happier mood, after Monday's 1-0 win over Croatia secured top spot in Group C.
Vicente del Bosque believes Spain "underestimated" France when they lost to them in the last 16 at the 2006 World Cup but says there is no danger of that happening again tomorrow.
"France were the most complicated (potential) rival and the strongest team in Group D," he told Spanish radio station Onda Cero.
"They have players who are very good technically and well organised. Benzema is in good form and behind him, they have three players who are very good. I think they'll play like us."