JONATHAN SHALLARD in MUNICH: A fine balance marked Spain and France before kick-off in their UEFA Euro 2024 semi-final but by the end there was no doubt about the superior power, even if La Roja managed only a 2-1 advantage after conceding an early goal.

They will be clear favourites to land a record fourth title in Berlin on Sunday whoever may emerge from the other semi-final between Netherlands and England in Dortmund.

This was a full-force team victory for Spain but it was impossible to ignore the decisive individual sparkle provided by the exceptional Lamine Yamal, four days short of his 17th birthday. He scored the first Spanish goal, becoming the youngest-ever scorer at the Euro finals, and set up the second for Dani Olmo.

Lamine Yamal: not yet 17 and a match-winner

Spain, three-times champions, had won all their five previous matches but kicked off without the injured Pedri and suspended Robin Le Normand and Dani Carvajal in defence. Fortunately their French opponents had never quite hit their stride in the tournament and this night was no exception.

Captain Kylian Mbappe had been restricted in previous games by the mask protecting his damaged nose. This time the mask was off and so, figuratively speaking, were the gloves. But not for long.

Immediate pressure came from Spain with Fabian Ruiz turning up at the far post to attack right-wing crosses from Yamal. Each time he was off target and Spain were punished in the eighth minute after the first French attack: Mbappe taunted Calderon’s deputy Jesus Navas on the edge of the penalty box then capitalised on the veteran’s hesitation to deliver a cross which Randal Kolo Muani headed home.

Lead overturned

This was the striker’s fifth international goal and the first French goal from open play. Building on that advantage proved beyond them and within 17 minutes their lead had been not only wiped out but overturned.

In the 21st minute Yamal, outside the penalty box, bypassed the six defenders ahead of him by simply curling a left-foot pearler just within the right-hand angle of keeper Mike Maignan’s goal. Four more minutes and Yamal sent Navas to the byline for a pullback fired into goal by Dani Olmo.

Jules Kounde could not help diverting the shot into his own net so the goal was subsequently credited to the Bayer Leverkusen man, his third goal in three successive games.

The story of the second half is simply told. France offered possession but next to no penetration. Early in the half Mbappe had an angled drive saved low by keeper Unai Simon and later he burst inside only to loft over the top. Theo Hernandez was also wastefully high.

Lost cause

That was the sum total: Les Bleus a very pale blue indeed.

Spain remained cool, clever and neat, taking every opportunity to hold the ball, move it around and keep it close. Yamal once raced clear and was off target but he spent more time tracking back than attacking, a sacrifice in the cause which earned him a yellow card.

Shortly afterwards he was substituted but by then the match was in stoppage time and, effectively, it was all over: Spain were deservedly in the final while shot-shy France and long-serving coach Didier Deschamps were heading home.

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