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Three key battles as Spain face France in Euro 2024 semis

With five Euros titles between them, Spain and France face off in Tuesday’s semi-finals in Munich hoping to extend their respective bids for another triumph.

Spain could win a record-breaking fourth Euros crown while France would join the Spanish and Germany on three titles should they go all the way.

In the shadows of the Germans and Italians for much of the 20th century, France and Spain have become the two most successful nations at major tournaments in recent decades.

Since France won the World Cup in 1998, only four of 13 World Cup or Euros finals have featured neither of the two sides.

Spain have two Euros titles and a World Cup in that time, while France have become world champions twice and won Euro 2000.

Here, AFP Sport looks at the key battles which will decide who makes it to the final in Berlin on July 14: 

France’s absent attack versus Spain’s depleted defence

Top scorers with 16 goals at the 2022 World Cup, France have reached the Euro 2024 semi-finals without scoring themselves from open play.

Superstar Kylian Mbappe has found the net just once, from the penalty spot, struggling with a mask after breaking his nose in their opening game against Austria.

France’s two other goals have been own goals.

France coach Didier Deschamps defended Mbappe on Sunday, telling TF1 the forward had “already made history… and he wants to make even more history”.

“Kylian is here, even if he is not 100 percent.”

At Euro 2016, Antoine Griezmann scored six goals — twice as many as the next best player — and laid on two assists but has rarely threatened opposition defences in Germany.

If France are to break through however, Tuesday’s match may be the perfect opportunity against a depleted Spanish defence.

Spanish stalwart Dani Carvajal and centre-back Robin le Normand will miss the semi-final through suspensions.

Other than the final group stage match against Albania, the duo have started every match at the tournament and Spain have only conceded once with them both on the pitch.

Jesus Navas, 38, will likely replace Carvajal and can expect plenty of attention from the lightning-fast Mbappe.

Pragmatic versus positive: Deschamps and de la Fuente

Tuesday’s coaching duel shapes up not only as a clash of philosophy but a marked contrast in tone.

France’s Didier Deschamps, one of only three men to have won the World Cup as both player and manager, has taken Les Bleus to the finals of three of the past four major tournaments.

Blessed with more offensive depth than perhaps any other team at the tournament, Deschamps does not allow his attacking riches to run free, instead preferring defensive stability through a rigid adherence to structure and form.

The coach admitted as much in France’s qualification campaign, saying: “I am pragmatic and realistic and the players are aware of that too.”

Despite scoring just three goals, France have not trailed at any point at Euro 2024.

By contrast, Luis de la Fuente lets his team off the leash, often saying he encourages the side to play football, even if they make mistakes.

“We can damage our opponents in many different ways,” he said after their 3-0 opening win over Croatia.

Eight different players have scored for Spain.

Kante versus Rodri in midfield

Spain midfielder Rodri has a claim of being perhaps his side’s most important if unheralded player — a title N’Golo Kante carried for many years for France.

The Manchester City star provides control and calm in the middle of the pitch, allowing young wingers Yamine Lamal and Nico Williams to roam forward.

Rodri has also developed a habit of chipping in with crucial goals, including just before half-time with Spain 1-0 down against Georgia in the last 16.

Kante’s energy and commitment has been a key part of France’s excellent decade, popping up across the field to shut down attacks, often before they begin.

The 33-year-old’s man-of-the-match awards in France’s opening two games showed he again belongs on the international stage after a two-year absence.

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