HomeTennisThe Briefing: Spain 2 France 1: A semi-final for the ages as...

The Briefing: Spain 2 France 1: A semi-final for the ages as Yamal makes history with wondergoal


Related stories


Spain are the first nation through to the Euro 2024 final after beating France 2-1 in Munich.

After a series of games at this year’s European Championship that could safely be filed as ‘cagey’, Spain and France served up a superb encounter on Tuesday evening. Didier Deschamps’ side took the lead inside 10 minutes via a Randal Kolo Muani header from a delightful Kylian Mbappe cross, but Spain hit back with two extraordinary goals, the first a welcome-to-the-big-time rocket from Lamine Yamal (who, as you might have heard, is 16) followed by a clever finish from Dani Olmo four minutes later.

There was no slowing down after the break either, with both sides continuing to trade blows. France had their chances to equalise but even Olivier Giroud — on as a substitute for his final international appearance — could not find a way through. Spain will head to Berlin for Sunday’s final and a chance to become champions of Europe for a fourth time.

Our writers Liam Tharme, Dermot Corrigan and Peter Rutzler break down the main talking points…

Are Spain now the big favourites to win Euro 2024?

Spain are back in their first big tournament final since the golden generation which dominated from 2008 to 2012. And whoever they face in the final, they will be big favourites to add a fourth European Championship trophy in Sunday’s decider.

The current La Roja team does not play like those sides which dominated tournaments with a technically excellent but risk-free possession style that won trophies but left many observers not fully satisfied.

Luis de la Fuente’s team do not play like anybody else in this tournament either, especially the way they get players forward, midfielders Fabian Ruiz and Dani Olmo breaking into the box, while the thrilling wide players Nico Williams and Lamine Yamal keep opposing full-backs wide as No 9 Alvaro Morata moves around the centre-backs.

(Alex Pantling – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

It’s a risky approach, as it means opponents also have a chance to play, and also to counter-attack. It makes for great entertainment for most watching, as games open up with opponents who are more used to sitting tight and playing chess-like games finding themselves overwhelmed at the back and then having to come out fighting themselves.

Spain have also been really good this tournament at responding to adversity — Georgia’s early opener in the last 16, Germany’s late equaliser in the quarter-finals, and then tonight’s comeback after Kolo Muani’s goal had seemingly put France in control.

Still, the team’s most attractive attribute remains the energy and excitement of their two young wingers — Williams was excellent again tonight, but it was Yamal who shone most brightly with his superb long-range goal and remarkable all-round performance.

What these kids, and this team, are doing in this tournament is very special. They will surely be most neutrals’ favourites too on Sunday, whether they play England or the Netherlands. And they will deservedly be the bookies favourites too — Spain have been by quite a distance the best team in this tournament so far.

Dermot Corrigan

A first half of sensational moments

Tournaments are decided on moments. In many ways, it was reminiscent of the Nations League final in 2021, when Spain opened the scoring then France equalised two minutes later.

The first half was the reverse this time. Kolo Muani scored his fifth senior France goal, from a flowing right-to-left move of a Paris Saint-Germain trio: Ousmane Dembele switched it wide-left to Mbappe, who hung-up a back-post cross for Kolo Muani to header in — France’s first open-play goal of the tournament.

Yamal’s equaliser was even better, the first open-play goal scored against France this tournament. The jink and the top-corner finish belied his age. He should have assisted early in the game, only for PSG midfielder Fabian Ruiz to head over his inswinging cross (remarkably similar to the one Mbappe provided for Kolo Muani).

Meanwhile, Dani Olmo, who scored in the two previous knockout rounds (Spain’s opening goal against Germany and the fourth versus Georgia in the round of 16), put Spain in the lead with three phenomenal touches. His two touches, first to control William Saliba’s clearance, then to take the ball away from Aurelien Tchouameni, keeping the ball in the air, were good enough.

Then he drilled a shot low off Jules Kounde, but the goal — rightly — was his.

It was a first half filled with supreme quality — these were just three of its finest cuts.

Liam Tharme

Yamal answers Adrien Rabiot in the ideal manner

“Yamal will need to show more than what he’s done so far in the tournament if he wants to be in the final,” said France midfielder Adrien Rabiot at yesterday’s pre-game news conference.

The 16-year-old was listening, and replied as many teenagers do — via social media with an Instagram post saying ‘move in silence, only speak to say checkmate’.

The difference is that this 16-year-old can also reply in the adult real world. He almost created tonight’s opening goal, when a pinpoint cross almost set up Fabian Ruiz to head the opener in the opening moments of the game.

Kolo Muani soon scored from Mbappe’s cross, and Spain were rocking, with Mbappe causing huge problems for veteran stand-in right-back Jesus Navas, and France looking full of confidence.

But then Yamal picked up the ball 30 yards out, and completely changed the game again. It was an incredible goal, the composure to work the space, the confidence to take on the shot, the power and placement to put it outside the reach of one of the world’s top keepers in Mike Maignan.

It was only while watching the replay that most of us noticed that it had been Rabiot that Yamal had faced up when he got possession, had teased and twisted until he had the yard of space he needed to shoot and score and who was then left despairingly to blame for France losing their lead.

(Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

It was a tremendous moment. For its timing, importance and pure technical quality, it was one of the best goals of this tournament, and one of the outstanding goals in Spanish football history.

It was also a tremendous way of answering Rabiot’s words the day before. Yamal is one of the most exciting talents to ever emerge in world football. He’s not 17 until Saturday.

(Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Dermot Corrigan

France’s attack misfires again

For the first time, a Frenchman scored from open play for France.

But it was not the moment that unlocked the French attack.

Kolo Muani’s goal, in the ninth minute, marked the high point of France’s forward play and it hinted at a change. It saw Dembele, lively after his cameo against Portugal, open up the game to find Mbappe, who in turn picked out Kolo Muani at the back post.

But thereafter, the brilliance belonged to Spain. When the moments fell to France, they were passed by once more. Despite their attacking options, including Dembele, Mbappe, Kolo Muani plus Bradley Barcola, Antoine Griezmann and Giroud from the bench, they could not summon a cutting edge.

Mbappe was unmasked for this match, frustrated with how his facial wear had been disrupting his game. His coach, Didier Deschamps, claimed beforehand that 50 per cent of Mbappe is worth 100 per cent of any player and there was merit to that, evidenced by his pinpoint assist.

(Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

But this has been a bruising European Championship for Mbappe. Not just because of his nose; he has only found the net once, and that was from the penalty spot. Against Spain, he had the chance to run at Jesus Navas, 38, for an hour but found moments limited. His one big chance landed in the 86th minute, the first time he had a direct run, one on one, with a Spanish defender in substitute Vivian. He cut inside, as he always does, but the net did not bulge as most expected. It blazed over the bar.

He was not alone in his struggles. Dembele started the game well and it appeared his crossfield switches, which France deployed effectively against Belgium in the round of 16, might prove problematic for Spain again. Ultimately that didn’t happen. Dembele created more chances than any other team-mate but also watched on as three of his 15 crosses failed to find a target. The penalty area was unbreachable for France.

That’s the story of their tournament, and despite their defensive stability in this tournament, it was the attacking excellence of Spain that won out.

Peter Rutzler

How will France reflect on Euro 2024?

Didier Deschamps has been in charge of France for almost 12 years and after 159 matches, the way his teams play should not really be a surprise.

They are built on defensive solidity. It is designed to reduce the risks, and play the odds of knockout football. It has brought success. Consecutive World Cup finals reflect that.

Yet it lives in uncomfortable taste, and can trigger a backlash from observers. Surely, a team with this much quality, could do more?

That is probably the overriding sentiment at the end of this tournament. France reached the semi-finals, which is no mean feat. But they did so begrudgingly. Their goalscorers were from the penalty spot, an own goal or Kolo Muani. Their issues centred more on missed chances in this tournament but they did not win admirers, nor perhaps, showcase the full range of their attacking potential.

(Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)

That is the thing about adopting a style framed around efficiency. When it works, you have the last laugh. But when it does not, and the results do not supplant the eye test, it is much more open to questioning.

This game was billed as a ‘beauty against the beast’ type showdown with France a team uncaring about aesthetics, and Spain the entertainers. That perhaps undermines the nature of this contest which was broadly a compelling watch, far more engaging than the majority of France’s outings at the Euros. In open play, a Frenchman scored for the first time, and they looked fluent.

Yet, when a team is geared around control and structure, it becomes much harder to release the shackles when the chips were down. Spain showed that brilliance could breach France’s excellent defence and then they asked France whether they could respond. Ultimately they could not.

The European Championships remains an elusive trophy for this French generation, and their manager. He is contracted for two more years and the fact he reached the last four once again will be evidence that he continually puts France in a position to win tournaments. Were the Euros a failure? Yes, in light of France’s own high standards. But they were not a disastrous result by any means. A semi-final of a knockout competition is only slightly below par for a team of this quality.

It is unlikely then, to outweigh the unease about their performances.

Peter Rutzler

Morata gets clattered after the whistle

Spain’s celebrations in front of their supporters at the final whistle took a worrying turn when a spectator invaded the pitch and a member of security ran towards the players only to slip and slide into Alvaro Morata.

The Spain forward was pictured hobbling and holding his leg after the incident, seemingly in pain. He was later seen in television footage being supported by a member of staff and his team-mate Dani Vivian.

(Breton/Pics Action/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

With the final on Sunday, Spain and Morata will be hoping no serious damage has been done and he will be fully fit to take part in the final at the Olympiastadion in Berlin.

Alex Brodie

Recommended reading

(Top photo: Getty Images)

- Never miss a story with notifications

- Gain full access to our premium content

- Browse free from up to 5 devices at once

Latest stories