France coach Laurent Blanc pointed to Xabi Alonso’s early goal as the key moment in his side’s 2-0 loss to Spain in the Euro 2012 quarter-finals, but stood by his tactical choices.
Blanc unexpectedly introduced a fresh tactical formula against Spain at Donetsk’s Donbass Arena on Saturday, with a five-man midfield deployed in a bid to stifle the reigning world and European champions.
Mathieu Debuchy lined up ahead of fellow right-back Anthony Reveillere in an unfamiliar right-wing role, as Blanc sought to nullify the influence of Jordi Alba and Andres Iniesta on the Spanish left.
However, it was from that side of the pitch that Spain broke the deadlock in the 14th minute, with Iniesta freeing Alba to cross for Xabi Alonso to head home on his 100th international appearance.
France improved after half-time, until Alonso’s injury-time penalty put the game to bed, but Blanc said he was more frustrated by the early goal than by his side’s failure to capitalise on their chances.
“If you look at our team, we knew Spain’s left side was very strong,” he said. “In Alba and Iniesta, they have two players who overlap constantly. And what’s frustrating is that we conceded a goal from that side.
“If you look at the first half, it’s the only time Alba was able to put a cross in. Even though we covered the front post, Xabi Alonso scored at the back post.
“It’s a frustrating feeling. We knew they were dangerous on that side, we changed our team to compensate, and they score from that side.”
He added: “In my belief, they are better than us. But my regrets are about conceding in the first half. Even though they dominated the match, I think they feared us a bit, particularly in attack.
“Even at 1-0 down, our second half was much better technically. We had a few openings, even though we didn’t create any clear-cut chances.
“The big regret is the fact we let in the first goal from their first chance. In the second half, the players gave everything. Technically it was better, but it’s very hard to cause Spain problems.”
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque tweaked his team by deploying Cesc Fabregas as a ‘false nine,’ and Blanc conceded his defenders might have found life easier against a conventional striker like Fernando Torres.
“We’d planned for two options, so it wasn’t a surprise,” he said.
“It’s true we were expecting Torres, but we had Fabregas, who is a very different player. Would it have been better with Torres? I don’t know.
“It might have allowed our center-backs to focus on one player, instead of having to worry about the four men in midfield.”
Blanc also lamented the fact he had not had sufficient time to prepare his side to face Spain and compared his team’s fate with that of Italy, who held the Spaniards to a 1-1 draw in their opening Group C match.
“We could have worked on it more if we’d had more time,” he said.
“Italy played well against them because they knew [Spain] were their first opponents and they had time to prepare. If we had more time, we could have tried something else — like three at the back, for example.”
Having fulfilled his pre-tournament objective of leading France to the quarter-finals, Blanc is expected to be offered a contract extension by the French Football Federation.
However, he said it was too early to evaluate France’s showing in Ukraine.
“We’ve just gone out of the competition and the disappointment is obvious for the staff and the players, but we’ll have to analyze this Euro,” said Blanc.
“We’ll do it in the days ahead. There will be satisfactions and disappointments, and you’ll see what happens next.”