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Just like old times for France, Spain stars

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GNIEWINO, Poland, June 21- Saturday’s showdown in the Euro 2012 quarter-final between France and Spain will be a throwback to old times for several rising stars, who faced off when the countries met in the European Under-17 championships in 2004.

On that occasion, France were the victors, 2-1 in the final, with Samir Nasri scoring the winner with Spain not yet in the ascendancy in Europe as they soon would be, winning Euro 2008 at senior level.

Back in 2004, Nasri, now of Manchester City, and Hatem Ben Arfa, now of Newcastle, came off best against Cesc Fabregas – though he was voted best player – as well as Gerard Pique.

And now the Spanish will have the chance for revenge as they chase a first senior tournament success against Les Bleus.

“Ben Arfa was the best,” says Under-17 French coach of the time Philippe Bergeroo. “He could really change the course of a match.”

Fabregas had meanwhile just signed for Arsenal while Pique was also heading for the Premier League with Manchester United.

Taking charge of the seniors after the fiasco of the 2010 World Cup, France coach Laurent Blanc looked back to the likes of Nasri and Ben Arfa to back other emerging talent such as Jeremy Menez and Karim Benzema, as he rebuilt from the ruins of the era overseen by predecessor Raymond Domenech.

Blanc might have lost out on the mercurial but inconsistent Ben Arfa altogether as Tunisia, from where his parents hail, had made overtures to him to star for the North Africans at the 2006 World Cup before the former Lyon and Marseille star came on board with the French seniors.

Nasri, who like Benzema is of Algerian origin, graduated to the full squad in 2007 – a year later he would sign for Arsenal from Marseille before lifting the league title this season with Manchester City.

Benzema, who has spent three seasons with Real Madrid, also came into the full squad in 2007 and is now someone whose inside knowledge of the Spanish game can help the French.

But eight years on from their meeting as young teens in Chateauroux, Fabregas and Pique will be hoping this time fortune will smile on them and the Furia Roja.

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