Donetsk, Ukraine – Spain's search for a record third straight major title will face a huge obstacle Saturday against France in the Euro 2012 quarterfinals.
Spain won Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup and entered Euro 2012 as one of the favorites, but it has never beaten France in a major competition.
France, which won the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000, is unbeaten in six matches all-time against Spain in Euros or the World Cup.
Although the French are not quite at the level of the past, even 2006, when it was runner-up at the World Cup, it has overcome years of disappointment to get to knockout play.
Spain's last loss in a major tournament was against France in the 2006 Cup and it will provide the measuring stick as to whether France has re-emerged in the post Zinedine Zidane era.
Zidane scored the final goal in France's 3-1 win in the 2006 World Cup against Spain, but it will be players like Franck Ribery, who also scored in the match six years ago, that matter now.
Ribery, once coined the "next Zidane," has developed into a top international player, but France has not developed into a top team. France was winless in both Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup, but got a win in group play to make the quarterfinals.
France had won 23 straight matches before a defeat against Sweden to end group play, but goalie Hugo Lloris believed it was important to "forget" that game.
"(Spain) will also be a great test for us, where we will have to show what we can do," Lloris said. "We'll have to be there and end that match with as few regrets as possible."
France could have avoided a clash with Spain at this point of the event with a win over Sweden, but it still would have faced Italy if it won Group D.
"It means we now face a quarterfinal against Spain, but if you want to win the tournament you have to beat everybody. We have to rest now but it's going to be a great game to be involved in," France defender Gael Clichy said.
Spain started Euros with a 1-1 draw against Italy, then defeated Ireland, 4-0, and Croatia, 1-0, to claim Group C. Although Spain was not impressive in group play, it scored six goals and allowed just one.
Coach Vicente del Bosque was not concerned after the Croatia game, even though his side nearly allowed a goal and won by just a single goal.
"The fact that Croatia had one good chance doesn't mean that they were on top, come on," Del Bosque said.
Del Bosque has not used a striker from the start in two matches, against Italy and Croatia, and that remains a concern ahead of the France match and has been the reason for some criticism.
Midfielder Andres Iniesta, among the many players who have been stalwarts for years, believed the criticism was overblown.
"All criticism has its place if it's constructive and not just people letting off steam in the heat of the moment," Iniesta said. "I'd ask some fans to stay calm. Everyone thinks they knows better than the coach, but I think we've done pretty well so far."
Iniesta admitted the competition was part of the reason Spain has not been as impressive as in recent tournaments, and that every team has bad moments.
"Everything is really tight in this tournament. Every team is going to have difficult moments," Iniesta said. "We had ours (against Croatia), but we don't believe there needs to be any doubt in us."