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France fight for their finals future

"After the game I've seen tonight it's difficult to imagine us beating Spain."

France coach Laurent Blanc made no attempt to hide his disappointment after defeat to Sweden in their final Group D game condemned them to a quarter-final date with world and European champions Spain.

It's not the way it was supposed to be. Above England going into the game with the pointless Swedes it was thought France would pick up a regulation win and avoid the last-eight tie no one wanted. The defeat led to confrontations between French players in the changing room after the match - with Hatem Ben Arfa and Blanc said to have clashed.

The doom and gloom of Tuesday night has now given way to at least a glimmer of positivity. Assistant coach Alain Boghossian insists the squabbles have been forgotten and "the fire's been put out". But when things go wrong in the pressure cooker of tournament football it is difficult to dismiss friction so easily, as Netherlands once again found out to their cost this summer.

France will have to replace Philippe Mexes, who is suspended after picking up his second yellow card of the tournament against Sweden. Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny is set to come into the centre of defence.

At least Franck Ribery and Samir Nasri, two important components of France's forward line spearheaded by Karim Benzema, have shaken off knee and foot injuries respectively and should be fit to take their places in the team.

"Ribery, Benzema and Nasri are world class," Spain boss Vicente Del Bosque said in his pre-match press conference. "They'll make things difficult for us."

Spain have found themselves on unfamiliar ground in recent days, with some beginning to question their tactical approach. Del Bosque has had to bat away questions about his preference for playing without a striker, with either David Silva or Cesc Fabregas as an advanced midfielder in an attacking role.

He's not about to change, though, with "keeping hold of the ball and being incisive" remaining the central ploy, while the coach also insisted there is "nothing new or abnormal" about playing without a striker. That may be true, but Spain's desire to hold possession and force opponents into mistakes by shear frustration and relentless probing may not be enough to win them a third successive major title.

It remains to be seen if Fernando Torres will keep his place in the team, having started the last two matches against Ireland and Croatia. De Bosque could opt to revert to the 4-6-0 formation he used against Italy, looking to make sure Spain command the midfield against what is perceived to be a far more dangerous opponent.

And that is shown in the countries' head-to-head record too, as Spain have never won a competitive game against France - drawing once and losing the other five. The two sides last met at the 2006 World Cup, in the first knock-out round with France winning 3-1.

Spain player to watch: David Silva. Whether or not Del Bosque chooses to go with Fernando Torres, Silva will have a vital role to play in the Spanish side. He either plays as the orchestrator behind the striker or in the advanced role from the packed midfield. With a goal and three assists, Silva was the architect of success for the holders in the group stage.

France player to watch: Karim Benzema. As Croatia found out to their cost, you have to take your chances against Spain whenever they come along. In Benzema, France have a player who plays in Spain, for Real Madrid, and scored 21 La Liga goals last season. But Benzema has not managed to find his form in this tournament and has had 17 shots without scoring - the most of any player yet to hit the back of the net.

Key battle: Franck Ribery/Samir Nasri v Jordi Alba. As one of the breakthrough players in the Spain team, and with a mooted €15 million transfer to Barcelona set to be completed after Euro 2012, Alba is expected to have the left-back berth sewn up for years to come. But the Valencia defender, who came though Barcelona's La Masia academy, had only five caps prior to the finals and will have to cope with switching attacks from both Franck Ribery and Samir Nasri. A true test of his development on the international stage.

Stats: Germany have received just three yellow cards at Euro 2012 - two of those for Jerome Boateng. Spain have won just one of their nine previous European Championship or World Cup quarter-finals outright.

Trivia: France have only ever won one European championship finals match without either Michel Platini or Zinedine Zidane in the side - and that was against Ukraine in the group stage.

Odds: Spain (1.80), France (5.00) and the draw (3.50) are on offer with bet365, while the game going to penalties is available at 6.50.

Prediction: This Spain team is not of the vintage which won Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup, but few teams beset by in-fighting excel and Spain should win this without the need for extra-time or penalties.

Follow Dale Johnson on Twitter @dalejohnsonESPN