GDANSK, Poland (AP) — Desperate to find a sense of unity, the French squad only needs to look at Spain and its leading player Andres Iniesta as role models.
Les Bleus will get a very close view Saturday, facing Iniesta and his teammates in the European Championship quarterfinals.
Iniesta has quietly been the standout player of Euro 2012, twice voted man-of-the-match after exemplifying the Spanish "band of brothers" mentality. France, meanwhile, continues to grapple with the fallout from a strife-torn 2010 World Cup and the retirement of players from the Zinedine Zidane era.
Spain's tremendous run of results since winning Euro 2008 comes from a collective spirit in a team packed with Europe's top footballing talent.
"You have to have heart if you play Spain," France coach Laurent Blanc said ahead of the match at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk.
So while Iniesta is no stranger to heroics, the soft-spoken 28-year-old midfielder never boasts about it, despite his knack of being able to deliver when it really matters for club and country.
Iniesta's stoppage-time equalizer at Stamford Bridge earned Barcelona a dramatic victory over Chelsea and a place in the 2009 Champions League final, where the the Spanish club won the first of 14 trophies over four seasons.
And while every Barcelona fan remembers where they were that night, everyone in Spain remembers July 11, 2010, when Iniesta's extra-time goal gave Spain a 1-0 victory over the Netherlands and its first World Cup.
With all-time leading scorer David Villa missing due to injury, Iniesta has had to take command of Spain's attack. Although that doesn't necessarily mean scoring goals, it does mean that his ability to break down defenses with his dribbling runs becomes all the more important.
"He's an incredible player," Spain teammate David Silva said. "When you play with him, everything is so much easier."
Iniesta balked at being given the tag of team leader at the start of the tournament, but he has progressively assumed the role alongside captain Iker Casillas. Iniesta has often defended coach Vicente del Bosque over tactics that have put him and fellow playmakers Xavi Hernandez, Silva and Cesc Fabregas as the focus of Spain's attack.
A photograph of Iniesta surrounded by five Italy players has been making the rounds in the Spanish media, and its symbolism has not been lost on the player himself.
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