Solid Spain Regain Top Spot With Win Over France

by
Reuters
A second-half goal by Pedro gave Spain a 1-0 away win against France in a pulsating game on Tuesday as they recaptured first place in World Cup qualifying Group I with three matches left.

A second-half goal by Pedro gave Spain a 1-0 away win against France in a pulsating game on Tuesday as they recaptured first place in World Cup qualifying Group I with three matches left.

Pedro tapped in a Nacho Monreal cross on the hour after which the world champions controlled the match and France ended with 10 men after Paul Pogba was shown a red card in the 78th.

Spain, who were overtaken at the top of the group by France last Friday following a 1-1 home draw against Finland, now have 11 points from five games and lead Les Bleus by one point.

Spain, unbeaten in their last 50 World Cup qualifiers dating back to March 1993, restored the fans' faith in their tactics after a surprise draw at home to Finland in their last game.

"This is a very important three points. It helps support the conviction we have in our ideas," Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque told Spanish television. "Everyone has doubts at times.

"When they went down to ten men in thoery it should have been easier for us, but this is when we perhaps had the most problems. The team played like men today."

France coahc Dider Deschamps told French TV channel TF1: "It's a bit hard to swallow. We did more than they did. We had opportunities against the best team of the moment.

"It could have been different even if they were more in control than us. By the end they were not at ease even if we had one less player."

COLD NIGHT

Del Bosque won the Champions League with Real Madrid at the Stade de France in 2000, two years after Deschamps lifted the World Cup as a player in the same stadium but only one of them would leave the field happy on a cold Parisian night.

Spain were without injured left back Jordi Alba and suspended forward David Silva but midfielders Xavi and Xabi Alonso were back in the starting lineup.

France started with teenager Raphael Varane alongside Laurent Koscielny in defence with 20-year-old Paul Pogba in front of the back four as Deschamps renewed his faith in Karim Benzema who had failed to score in his last 12 internationals.

The game got off to a frantic start with Mathieu Valbuena attempting a 20-metre bicycle kick after only 20 seconds as France pressed high up the pitch.

Spain came close to opening the scoring with their first chance in the fifth minute when Xavi missed an open goal after being set up by Monreal, who had been released by Andres Iniesta on the left side of the penalty area.

Spain were caught on the break in the 15th minute as Valbuena found Christophe Jallet on the right flank, only for Benzema to fire over the bar from the left back's pass.

The visitors struggled to create as mnay chances as usual although Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets had a grip on midfield.

In the 31st minute, France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris appeared to bring down Pedro in the box but referee Viktor Kassai waved play on and Xavi was booked for protesting.

GREAT CHANCE

France had a great opportunity before the break when Franck Ribery collected a pass from Valbuena but a poor second touch meant his low shot was blocked by Spain keeper Victor Valdes.

Benzema skied another shot early in the second half, prompting some of the crowd to call for Olivier Giroud.

Lloris tipped Andres Iniesta's snap shot over the bar but there was nothing he could do when Pedro scrambled the ball into the net from Monreal's cross in the 58th minute.

Blaise Matuidi then had a great chance to equalise from Ribery's pass but the midfielder's weak low shot was easily blocked by Valdes.

Benzema, whose futile runs did little to help his team mates, reached 1,000th minutes without a goal for France while his Real Madrid club mate Varane put sent the ball wide with 15 minutes left from point-blank range in a packed goalmouth.

Pogba was sent off with 12 minutes left after picking up two yekllow cards in four minutes.

Eight minutes from time, Benzema was booed off the pitch when he was replaced by Moussa Sissoko.

France, who grabbed a 1-1 draw against Spain in Madrid last October and beat Georgia 3-1 at home last Friday, next play Georgia away in September while Spain travel to Finland.

"It was a tough game but we got a narrow win," Monreal told Spanish television. "We drew with Finland in a game where they scored with their only chance.

"We knew we could not afford to lose today. We couldn't go five points behind, and we came out and played a great game."