Last updated at 19:45, Saturday 23rd June 2012

Les Bleus to shock La Roja


Mike Holden
Euro 2012 - Spain v France
2pts France to qualify against Spain at 9/4Spain haven't been convincing and we rate French chances much better than 30 per cent.1.5pts France to beat Spain in 90 mins at 4/1Complacency did for Les Bleus last time out but we expect a big reaction from a talented team.0.5pt France to beat Spain 2-0 at 33/1If Blanc's men bag the first goal then another could follow with Spain going for broke.

Let's go back six years, to a time when Spain weren't the all-conquering kings of international football, to a time when France were considered more likely to be in the frame for major honours and were many people's dark horses to win the World Cup in Germany.

Les Bleus came into that tournament well-fancied by many shrewd judges but they were well below-par to begin with and made extremely hard work of escaping a group containing Switzerland, South Korea and Togo.

However, squeeze through they did, as runners-up, and awaiting them in the second round was a knockout game against Spain, who were 25 matches unbeaten and one of the teams to set the tournament alight up to that point.

Naturally, the French were friendless in the betting but they responded well to lowered expectations and came from behind to triumph 3-1 against a team containing Iker Casillas, Carles Puyol, Sergio Ramos, Xavi Hernandez, Xabi Alonso, Cesc Fabregas, Fernando Torres and David Villa.

Back France to qualify at 9/4
It was much the same story in the quarter-finals too. With world champions and tournament favourites Brazil standing in their path, the French showed they had reserves of talent and revelled in the role of underdog once again, doing a job on Carlos Parreira's men to edge them out with a solitary strike from Thierry Henry.

Now a similar story might be about to unfold in Donetsk where the French will be playing for the third time, while the Spanish must uproot from their base in Gdansk, and we think there's big value to be found in various bets about Laurent Blanc's men sending the neighbours packing.

The truth is Spain just aren't convincing. We know all about their supreme technical ability, but since when has that commodity alone won major championships? Key players are missing and you can tell that the balance isn't quite right. They didn't beat Italy and they didn't deserve to beat Croatia.

As such, we'll kick off with a solid bet on France to qualify at 9/4. The market at the beginning of the tournament suggested the French are better than both the Italians and the Croats, so we see no reason why they should be considered no better than a 30 per cent chance to progress.

Back France to win in 90 mins at 4/1
We expressed our misgivings about the French psyche and their need for power distance in our pre-tournament analysis but we see no reason why those who fancied them from the outset should desert them now, even if they are currently a bigger price than they were before a ball was kicked.

The defeat to Sweden in their final group game was a simple consequence of complacency - only a highly unlikely sequence of results could have eliminated them by that point - but that humbling should serve as a powerful mental push ahead of this game. Media criticism will sting and a reaction should be expected.

With that in mind, we'll also stake our claim on France to win in 90 minutes at 4/1. This is still the same France team that many fancied from the outset, but they're no longer burdened by big expectations and that 23-match unbeaten run. If they're ever going to get their act together, it's now. Indeed, it has to be now.

On which note, it might also be time for Karim Benzema to step up. The Real Madrid striker has so far struggled to make an impact but he has nothing to fear against familiar faces and you suspect he would need no second invitation if presented with the kind of chances that Mario Balotelli, Antonio Cassano and Ivan Rakitic have spurned against La Roja.

Back France to beat Spain 2-0 at 33/1
Finally, let's also play for a jackpot payout with a speculative bet on France to win 2-0 at 33/1.

We're not suggesting France are two goals better than Spain but if they force the breakthrough, which so rarely happens because few other teams possess the quality to make something happen out of limited possession, then it stands to reason they could pick the holders off a second time when they start to over-commit.

We're going out on a limb here, but we believe it's with good reason. Forget the last four years, pay attention to history on a much wider scale. It's the French who have the superiority complex and Spainsh world dominance has largely passed them by. France were the last team to knock Spain out of a major tournement and they might well be the next.

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