AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
DONETSK: France and Spain are gearing up for an epic clash on Saturday when the two sides meet at the Euro 2012 quarter-finals in Donetsk.
Whichever side wins will meet Portugal in the last four - and, despite Cristiano Ronaldo's searing form, both teams will hope that Portugal's presence in the semi-finals is a good omen.
France beat Portugal in the semi-finals en route to success at both Euro 1984 and Euro 2000, as well as at the same stage of the 2006 World Cup.
Spain, meanwhile, overcame their Iberian rivals in the last 16 on the way to glory at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
First, however, there is Saturday's meeting in Donetsk, and the number of short, technically gifted midfielders in France's squad bears testament to Laurent Blanc's admiration for world and European champions Spain.
Since replacing Raymond Domenech at the France helm after the 2010 World Cup, Blanc has attempted to inculcate a passing game that mirrors the Spaniards' approach and his squad is an eloquent demonstration of that ambition.
Blanc has only two genuine strikers at his disposal -- Karim Benzema and Olivier Giroud -- but can call upon a wealth of nimble creative midfielders such as Samir Nasri, Franck Ribery, Jeremy Menez, Hatem Ben Arfa and Marvin Martin.
He has tried to turn France into a side that dominates its opponents but he admits that on Saturday, his players will be up against the masters in that domain.
"If you manage to have more possession of the ball than Spain, it'd be an achievement," said the France coach.
"In that area, they are very, very strong. It's a style of football that I like. And not only is it nice to watch, but it's efficient as well.
"The problem against Spain is that the players will have to be mentally prepared to run a huge amount and block the spaces as much as possible, even if they always manage to find space due to their quality."
With Philippe Mexes suspended after being booked in Tuesday's 2-0 loss to Sweden, Laurent Koscielny will step in alongside Adil Rami in the centre of a France defence charged with the onerous task of resisting the Spanish armada.
"We know about Spain's approach," said the Arsenal defender.
"They like to move around a lot. Sometimes there are no players in the centre and then, in the space of two or three passes, three or four arrive."
Blanc has played down reports of angry exchanges in the changing room following France's defeat by Sweden, which ended their 23-game unbeaten run, although he expressed concern at his side's lack of application during the game.
Spain approach Saturday's match at Donbass Arena in happier mood, despite having laboured to beat Croatia 1-0 on Monday in their final Group C game.
There were none of the fireworks of the 4-0 thrashing of Ireland four days earlier, but Spain's patient, probing approach kindled memories of the succession of 1-0 victories that carried them to glory at the World Cup.
Vicente del Bosque believes Spain "under-estimated" France when they lost to them in the last 16 at the 2006 World Cup but says there is no danger of that happening again on Saturday.
"France were the most complicated (potential) rival and the strongest team in Group D," he told Spanish radio station Onda Cero.
"They have players who are very good technically and well organised. I think they'll play like us. The French have no complexes."
Del Bosque is unlikely to make radical changes to his team, with Fernando Torres expected to hold on to his place at the point of the attack, while Nasri and Ribery are both set to feature for France after overcoming knocks.
Saturday's game is also a precursor to the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign, with France and Spain drawn in the same group, but both teams will only have eyes for a semi-final date with Ronaldo and co.