Reuters: Holders Spain set up a European Championship semi-final with Iberian rivals Portugal after an uninspiring 2-0 win over France on Saturday which featured yet another headed goal but prompted boos from a sometimes bored crowd.
The tournament has generally been graced by high quality, exciting soccer so far but for all Spain’s skill at keeping the ball with their distinctive short-passing game, the number of goalscoring chances in Donetsk were limited.
World champions Spain again started without a striker and it was left to midfielder Xabi Alonso to head in the 19th minute opener on his 100th international appearance as Vincente del Bosque’s side for once broke the mould and whipped in a cross.
It was a record 20th headed goal at a Euro tournament and the Real Madrid man added a second with a penalty late on.
“The team was phenomenal and personally I am very satisfied with the two goals. We didn’t have that many chances but we completely controlled the match,” Alonso said.
Spain’s win, their first in a competitive game against an unambitious France, meant the soccer showpiece event again ran to form after fancied Germany beat Greece 4-2 in Friday’s far more exciting quarter-final tie.
It was revealed on Saturday that Germany coach Joachim Loew did receive one unwanted shock when his lineup was leaked to the media hours before kick off and he is now searching for a mole.
Eliminated Russia were also reeling from news of a third fine for crowd trouble from European soccer’s governing body UEFA, this time for the throwing of fireworks and display of an illicit banner in their final group defeat by Greece last week.
Fan disturbances have been an unwelcome feature of the three-week tournament in Poland and Ukraine, the largest multi-city sporting event to be held in Eastern Europe.
On the plus side, however, police said no English fans had been arrested at all so far, a revelation which will stun much of the European soccer community who were brought up on images of British football hooliganism in the 1980s and ‘90s.
England play Italy in the last quarter-final in Kiev on Sunday with the victor facing Germany next Thursday in Warsaw.
Portugal won the first last-eight game on Thursday, beating the Czech Republic 1-0, but they have probably lost striker Helder Postiga for the rest of the tournament after he suffered a thigh injury in that game.
Spain await for Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo on Wednesday in Donetsk but the world’s most expensive player will only shine if he can get possession after the Spaniards took their keep-ball approach to new and often dull heights against France.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel attended Germany’s comfortable victory on Friday in Gdansk, which rubbed salt in the wounds of a Greek nation suffering from a dire economic crisis which many there blame on her and Berlin.
Merkel’s celebration of the goals led Greeks to yell abuse at their television screens but it was Germany coach Loew who was screaming when he heard the media had got hold of his surprise decision to rest striker Mario Gomez and others.
“It is true that the coach talked to us about it and he was not happy. I do not think it is someone from the team because I cannot imagine it being someone from the team,” forward Andre Schuerrle said.
There were similar leaks in Germany’s three group games.
“I do not know who the mole is but in the end I don’t think it was a drawback for us,” said Marco Reus, a surprise pick along with Schuerrle.
Merkel’s visit to Poland will not be repeated by British politicians when England take on Italy in Kiev because of a boycott of Euro 2012 matches played in Ukraine.
Western governments have protested over the imprisonment of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko and say her jailing for seven years for abuse-of-power smacks of “selective justice”.
The English and Italian players will not have allowed off-field matters to affect their focus on Sunday’s game in what could be a hard-fought war of attrition but, as ever, Italy’s Mario Balotelli livened up the pre-match build-up.
“I could be Peter Pan in that I do things my own way and I’m very free, but I think I’m more of a man than Peter Pan,” the unpredictable striker said.