Xabi Alonso made the most of his opportunity and a late penalty, as Spain pushed past France 2-0 to reach the Euro 2012 semi-finals.
Vicente Del Bosque returned to the no-striker system he had used against Italy, benching Fernando Torres in favour of Cesc Fabregas. France squeezed through second in the group phase behind England and needed a boost after their surprise 2-0 defeat to Sweden. Les Bleus opted to pack the midfield and were without the suspended Philippe Mexes.
Fabregas fell in the opening minutes in a collision with Gael Clichy, but the referee judged it to be accidental.
Spain broke through the French defence on 19 minutes when Jordi Alba burst down the left flank and crossed for an unmarked Xabi Alonso to nod the ball into the ground and past Hugo Lloris. It was the perfect way to mark his 100th cap.
It was a closed off game with precious few chances and Karim Benzema hit a free kick well over, while Anthony Reveillere came across to deflect an Andres Iniesta shot on goal.
Iker Casillas had to make his first intervention after 31 minutes, palming a dangerous Yohan Cabaye free kick out of the near top corner. Casillas then fumbled the corner, but was able to get it back under control before anyone could tap in.
Gerard Pique should’ve made it 2-0 from a corner before the break, but turned the free header off target. After the restart Sergio Ramos did enough to stop Franck Ribery pulling the trigger as he sprinted into the box.
Ribery got between a crowd of red shirts to chip a cross into the middle for Mathieu Debuchy’s header on to the roof of the net. Moments later Pique struggled to stop Florent Malouda turning from close range, but Fabregas sprung the offside trap and Lloris perfectly timed the rush off his line to clear on the edge of the box.
Both teams made changes to a more attacking line-up and Pedro Rodriguez rolled across for Torres, but Laurent Koscielny came sliding in with the crucial intervention. Ribery got to the by-line and pulled back for Jeremy Menez, forcing Casillas into a decisive one-handed interception.
In the final minute Pedro burst into the box and got past Adil Rami with a step-over, then Reveillere clumsily clattered into him for a penalty. Xabi Alonso stepped up and kept his cool to convert the spot-kick, sending Lloris the wrong way to double his tally.
Spain did just about enough to secure the victory and will face neighbours Portugal in the semi-final on Wednesday.
Spain 2-0 France
Scorers: Xabi Alonso 19, pen 91 (S)
Spain: Casillas; Arbeloa, Pique, Sergio Ramos, Jordi Alba; Xavi, Busquets, Xabi Alonso; Silva (Pedro 65), Fabregas (Torres 66), Iniesta (Santi Cazorla 84)
France: Lloris; Reveillere, Rami, Koscielny, Clichy; Debuchy (Menez 64), Cabaye, M’Vila (Giroud 79), Malouda (Nasri 64), Ribery; Benzema
Ref: Rizzoli (Ita)
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