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  • Writer's pictureBy Yann Tear at Fußball Arena Munchen

Familiar sinking feeling in sight of the prize - but Arsenal's rock has had superb Euros


Spain v France Picture by Yann Tear
Spain v France at Fußball Arena Munchen Picture by Yann Tear

Euro 2024 Semi-final

Spain 2-1 France

Fußball Arena Munchen


There will be no glorious finale to the season in Berlin on Sunday for William Saliba.


The Arsenal defender has been one of the standout players of the tournament in Germany and formed a superb partnership with Bayern defender Dayot Upamecano throughout.


France only conceded a penalty to Robert Lewandowski on their way to Tuesday's semi and given that Les Bleus had not scored from open play in their five matches - and only managed three goals - it was just as well for the World Cup runners up that they had such a reliable man at the back.


The nose injury and untimely loss of form from Kylian Mbappe compounded the importance of the defender's contribution.


Gunners fans will have needed no persuading of his worth. Last season, his absence through injury coincided with a painful loss of form in the title run in. In the season just gone he was there alongside Gabriel - taking the race to the final day.


He has looked pretty unbeatable but the Spaniards have skills to unlock the very best rearguard and players with the guile and nous to go on and claim another Euro title to sit alongside the back to back wins in 2008 and 2012.


France scored early on when Mbappe lifted a fine cross to the middle for Kolo Muani to head home but the lead was quickly overturned - first by the sublime prodigy that is Lamine Yamal, the second from that very un-Spanish looking midfielder Dani Olmo.


Both goals were about exquisite executions, but Yamal's curling left footer from outside the box was also a history maker.


The Barcelona boy is the youngest scorer in World and European championships at 16 years and 362 days.


That is ridiculously young. Even Pele, scoring against Wales in the 1958 finals wasn't so callow, clocking in at 17 years and 239 days.


You couldn't really blame Saliba for not being able to shut out such talent. In fact, it was the experienced Adrian Rabiot who was left bamboozled by the quick feet which opened up enough space just outside the area for the sweet left foot curler which found the net.


It was one of those big moments that will live on in future reels about this event, which has grown from such humble beginnings in 1960 to become second only to the World Cup in terms of worldwide importance. The Copa America currently taking place in the USA might beg to differ, but this is a very special bridge between editions of the World Cup.


Spain exerted so much control after taking the lead that France struggled to suggest they could find an equaliser. It was a sad end for former Arsenal and Chelsea man Olivier Giroud, who came on as a late sub as France chased the game in vain.


His international career is surely over now. That may also be the case for N'Golo Kante. But at least Saliba will be back.


Spain know the winners of tomorrow's second semi final hold no terror for them - whether they turn out to be England or Holland. They have the tools to see off all comers at the moment. They have midfield supremacy, with Rodri and Fabian Ruiz ruling the roost.


They have dashing wingers and a mean defence. And a really clever player in Olmo, whose speed of thought and touch bought him what turned out to be winner after only 25 minutes.


They were not ruffled by shipping an early goal and Marc Cucurella was not thrown off his stride despite hearing a cacophony of whistles from watching German fans every time he touched the ball.


He remains an irritant for every opponent and can see the enticing finishing line.


It was a bizarre bit of targeting by the neutral hosts sitting among the two sets of supporters. Presumably it was an expression of their disappointment that the Chelsea man's handling of the ball in the quarter-final against Germany on Friday went unpunished.


One imagines he won't mind one bit if there is a repeat of that barracking on Sunday, as long as his team prevail one more time.



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