France came from behind to beat Spain 3-1 in an absorbing encounter in Hanover.
Spain had taken the lead through a David Villa penalty, but France levelled before the break through Franck Ribery. The game appeared to be heading for extra-time until Patrick Vieira broke the deadlock in the closing minutes, and Zinedine Zidane sealed the win with a wonderful goal in stoppage time.
Spain included Cesc Fabregas and Raul at the expense of Marcos Senna and Luis Garcia in what was an attacking formation for Luis Aragones’ side.
For France, suspended French duo Eric Abidal and Zinedine Zidane returned for Mikael Silvestre and David Trezeguet in an experienced line-up that contained five survivors from the 1998 World Cup winning side.
Spain enjoyed more of the possession in the early stages but they were unable to carve out any chances and France looked relatively comfortable at the back. At the other end, Henry shot weakly at Casillas in what was a cagey opening to the game.
Midway through the half France created a fine opening when Zidane found Henry on the right wing and his low cross eluded Ribery, and although Vieira got a foot to the ball, he was unable to steer his effort on target.
Spain finally broke the deadlock on 27 minutes when Lilian Thuram made a rash challenge on Pablo Ibanez in the area and the referee pointed straight to the penalty spot. David Villa stepped up and slotted a perfect spot-kick just beyond Barthez’s reach and Aragones’s side were ahead.
Zinedine Zidane playing what could be his last ever match was struggling to impose himself on the game. Whenever he received possession he was harried by Xavi and Fabregas who were doing a wonderful job denying him space and curbing his effectiveness. France’s other key player, Thierry Henry, was also struggling to make an impact, frequently being caught offside as the Spanish defence pushed up whenever France were in possession.
However, five minutes before the break it was a member of the younger generation who hauled them back into the game. Put through on goal by Patrick Vieira, Franck Ribery timed his run to perfection, sprinted through on goal, before skipping past Casillas and sliding the ball into the empty net.
It was the last meaningful action in what had been an absorbing opening half. Spain, by virtue of their territorial supremacy, looked the better team, but they must have been concerned at their failure to translate that domination into goalscoring chances. France, meanwhile, infused with self-belief after Ribery’s equaliser, will have fancied their chances of pulling off an upset.
The first chance of the second half fell to Malouda who was picked out by Zidane on the edge of the Spanish penalty area, but his delicate chip was acrobatically saved by Casillas.
With France beginning to take the game to Spain, Aragones introduced Luis Garcia and Joaquin for Villa and Raul, in an attempt to regain the initiative. The changes did not produce an immediate response from his team, and indeed it was France who appeared to have a renewed appetite for the battle.
Unfortunately, the second half lacked the fluency and tempo of the opening period and the game was frequently interrupted by a series of niggling fouls. Chances were few and far between although Joaquin went close with a left foot drive for France, while France’s best player Ribery set up Govou but the substitute blazed over.
However, just when the game looked like it was meandering towards extra-time, France went ahead through Patrick Vieira. A Zidane free-kick glanced off Alonso and Vieira was waiting at the far post to head home from close range.
France’s third goal came as Spanish went in search of an equaliser. Zidane, who had worked hard but had been a peripheral influence going forward, was put through and after cutting inside Puyol, the French skipper buried his shot past Casillas.
The 3-1 scoreline was harsh on Spain in what had been a close game throughout. However, France probably deserved their win for the way in which they had controlled the game in the second half.
One again Spain have flattered to deceive and will go home disappointed that they have failed to deliver on the biggest stage. To dismiss them as chokers would be a slight on France, who had rolled back the years to earn the right to face Brazil in the quarter-finals.
Spain: Casillas, Pablo, Puyol, Sergio Ramos, Pernia, Fabregas, Xavi, Alonso, Villa, Torres, Raul.
Subs used: Luis Garcia 54 (for Raul), Joaquin 54 (for Villa), Senna 72 (for Xavi).
Bookings: Puyol 83
France: Barthez, Sagnol, Thuram, Gallas, Abidal, Ribery, Zidane, Makelele, Vieira, Malouda, Henry.
Subs used: Govou 74 (for Malouda), Wiltord 88 (for Henry)
Bookings: Vieira 68, Ribery 87, Zidane.
Referee: Roberto Rosetti (Italy).
Spain: Villa 28 (pen)
France: Ribery 41, Vieira 83, Zidane 92.