Epic Contest: Spain vs France

Epic Contest: Spain vs France

Didier Deschamps had invited the world to look away. ‘You don’t have to watch,’ he told critics who claimed France were boring. And he did so with a smile because he knew nobody was about to look away.

Who would have wanted to miss this? Two of the giants of modern world football colliding in Munich.

They arrived looking like the two best teams in this competition. One the most fluent and attractive in attack against the most solid in defence and they produced an epic contest for the ages.

The first half played at an exhilarating pace, uncorked by France who snatched an early lead, a goal scored by Kolo Randal Muani and created by Kylian Mbappe, who discarded his protective mask and found his footballing powers came out of hiding.

Mbappe sparkled without being at his absolute best and it was Lamine Yamal who stole the show.

Spain came from behind to beat France 2-1 in their Euro 2024 semi-final on Tuesday night

It was disappointment for Kylian Mbappe (above) and Co as France crashed out of Euro 2024

It was disappointment for Kylian Mbappe (above) and Co as France crashed out of Euro 2024

Yamal’s spectacular equaliser will live long in the memory and by the end of the semi-final he was conducting the Spain fans, urging them to get behind the team, and hauling down Olivier Giroud to foil a threatening counterattack at the expense of a yellow card.

Dani Olmo scored what proved the winner while most people inside the Allianz Arena were still processing what they had seen from the Barcelona winger who will turn 17 on Saturday.

France fought back. They dominated the second half and Spain dropped deep and played with more caution, although it is impossible to begrudge them a place in Sunday’s final in Berlin, where they started Euro 2024 with a demolition job on Croatia.

Whoever takes them on, be it England or the Netherlands will have to raise their game to face opponents superior by some distance to anything they have yet to face, here in Germany.

It’s true, it should probably have been the final. These have been the two outstanding teams of the competition. One, flick and fluent in attack. One strong and watertight at the back to a barrage of criticism.

Ultimately, France were punished for failing to win their group.

Deschamps tinkered in search of creativity. Ousmane Dembele came in to replace Antoine Griezmann, Adrien Rabiot was back after suspension at the expense of Eduardo Camavinga, and they made just the started they wanted when Muani headed them into the lead in the ninth minute.

The goal came from Mbappe on the left, who clipped over a cross with his right foot. Muani drifted away from Aymeric Laporte into space at the back post, sprang high and made no mistake. The nagging statistic that they had yet to score a goal from open play was buried early.

Lamine Yamal scored an sensational equaliser for Spain from outside the box in the 21st minute

Lamine Yamal scored an sensational equaliser for Spain from outside the box in the 21st minute

The 16-year-old starlet whipped his long-range effort past Mike Maignan in the French net

The 16-year-old starlet whipped his long-range effort past Mike Maignan in the French net

Spain boss Luis de la Fuente had been forced into changes with Dani Olmo in for the injured Pedri out and two veterans drafted into the back four with Dani Carvajal and Robin Le Normand both suspended.

Nacho, a doubt ahead of the game, was declared fit to partner Laporte in the centre with 38-year-old Jesus Navas came in at right back with the responsibility for keeping Mbappe under control.

The night started badly for the former Manchester City winger, these days converted into a full back and defying age at Sevilla. He made an early challenge on Mbappe but stood off him as he crossed for the goal and was booked early for a mistimed slide on Rabiot.

Ahead of Navas on Spain’s right wing was 16-year-old Yamal, who picked out Fabian Ruiz for Spain’s first effort of the night, headed over, and then scored a breathtaking equaliser with a blistering strike from distance.

Darting inside onto his left foot, Yamal weighed up his options and went for goal. The ball flashed past Mike Maignan’s dive, still accelerating as it thumped against a post and settled into the net.

Gasps of disbelief rippled around the stadium, such was the audacity in one so young. Such was the brilliance. It will live on as one of the goals of the tournament and perhaps a moment we will look back on and cherish for years to come.

Four minutes later and Spain were in the lead. Again, from the right although this time it was a cross by Navas poorly defended by William Saliba, who headed a clearance down to the feet of Olmo, inside the penalty area.

Olmo deceived Aurelian Tchouameni with a wonderfully disguised flick, drove his shot past Maignan and Jules Kounde’s attempt to keep it out only served to divert the ball into his own goal.

He celebrated wildly after becoming the youngest-ever goalscorer in Euros history

He celebrated wildly after becoming the youngest-ever goalscorer in Euros history

Dani Olmo fired the Spaniards ahead before half time with a smart finish inside the penalty box

Dani Olmo fired the Spaniards ahead before half time with a smart finish inside the penalty box

Initially, UEFA ruled it an own goal but by half-time it was Olmo’s and that was about right.

France wobbled and Spain sought to assert their authority. Nico Williams flickered into life on the left. One jinking run into the penalty area sparked panic in the French defence but he could not tee up Alvaro Morata. Ruiz worked himself room for another effort at goal which was deflected wide.

France restored order and made it to the sanctuary of the half time interval before another scare when Williams broke clear, early in the second half.

Maignan made his mind up to rush from his goal and was fully 15 yards outside his penalty area, wide on the French right when he committed to the slide tackle. There was no margin for error, but the goalkeeper won the ball.

Tchouameni headed a corner straight at Unai Simon and Mbappe’s influence grew again. The France captain tested Simon from a tight angle.

Spain dropped a little deeper, increasingly content to play on the break and, maybe sensing the slight shift in the balance of power, De La Fuente decided it was time to send on Dani Vivian to police Mbappe.

Mbappe had a glorious chance to equalise for France in the second half but he fluffed his lines

Mbappe had a glorious chance to equalise for France in the second half but he fluffed his lines

Spain fans celebrate reaching the Euros final, where they will face England or the Netherlands

Spain fans celebrate reaching the Euros final, where they will face England or the Netherlands

Deschamps’ reaction was to make a triple change and move Mbappe from the left into a central role. Griezmann, Camavinga and Bradley Barcola came on.

Then Giroud, to ironic cheers from the French contingent who would have liked to have seen him sooner in the tournament, but there would be no way back. The best of the late chances fell to Theo Hernandez and Mbappe. Neither forced a save. France’s race was run. Spain will take some beating in Berlin.

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