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France 0-1 Spain: World Champs win in Paris to climb to top of Group I

France's forward Mathieu Valbuena (C) kicks the ball acrobatically during the World Cup 2014 qualifying football match France vs Spain on March 26, 2013 at the Stade de France

France’s forward Mathieu Valbuena (C) kicks the ball acrobatically during the World Cup 2014 qualifying football match France vs Spain on March 26, 2013 at the Stade de France

Pedro Rodriguez’s goal in the 58th minute gave Spain a one-nil win over France at the Stade de France, with the hosts being reduced to ten men in the 78th minute as Paul Pogba was sent off for a second bookable offence.

In a game of few quality chances in front of goal, the World Champions deserved the win over the balance of play as they now sit atop Group I.

French coach Didier Deschamps decided to field a combination of youth and experience. Hugo Lloris was in goal, with Christophe Jallet, Laurent Koscielny, Raphael Varane and Patrice Evra at the back. In a 4-5-1, Mathieu Valbuena and Franck Ribery were stationed out wide, with Yohann Cabaye, Blaise Matuidi and Paul Pogba – who made his debut only in Les Bleus previous game against Georgia – playing behind Karim Benzema, who has gone 11 games without scoring for his nation.

Spain were boosted by the return of Xavi Hernandez ahead of this fixture. He filled in a midfield consisting of Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso. His fellow Barcelona players David Villa and Pedro Rodriguez joined Andres Iniesta up front. Vicente del Bosque fielded Nacho Monreal, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique and Alvaro Arbeloa at the back. Victor Valdes continued in goal.

It was Spain who were provided with the first opportunity of the game. Iniesta exchanged passes with Monreal, who teed up Xavi. The stand-in captain, however, missed from seven yards out.

Spain were forcing the French into committing early mistakes. Ribery was compelled to play a ball across the face of his own goal to Jallet who was under pressure. The right-back had no option but to play it back into goalkeeper Lloris in the 12th minute.

In the 14th minute, Jallet was allowed acres of space on the right flank and he teed up the onrushing Benzema, whose effort blazed over the bar.

A trademark passing move in the 17th minute found Xavi, who slid his effort from outside the box just wide under pressure from Koscielny.

As the first half wore on, the game began to take shape. It was Spain who were dominating possession and attempting to prise the French open by frustrating them. The French, however, were defending in serried ranks and hurled men forward on the counter-attack whenever they had the ball.

La Furia Roja were failing to test Lloris, and Xavi’s efforts were all they had to show for in the first half hour, while France were creating half-chances whenever they had the ball but did not produce the killer pass when it mattered most.

With faint cries of Espana! Espana! emanating from the away end of the Stade de France, Spain continued to press forward.

Those cries turned into howls of derision in the 32nd minute when Spain felt they were denied a penalty. A long ball from Alonso found Pedro sprinting through the middle. Having sprung clear of the centre-backs, the winger felt he was brought down by the sliding Lloris in the box.

Referee Viktor Kassai though felt that Pedro had begun to fall even before the Tottenham Hotspur keeper had made contact with him.

A gaggle of Spanish players surrounded the Hungarian referee. Their vociferous arguments were met with much finger wagging and a yellow card for Xavi. That incident was only evidence that Spain were attempting to turn the screw. David Villa’s effort across the face of goal bobbled horribly wide, but there was little more attacking intent from him.

France sensed this and responded in kind. Valbuena combined well with Ribery seven minutes from half-time. The Bayern Munich man’s first touch was excellent, but his second let him down and Victor Valdes did well to close down the winger.

With no added time and much sparring in the first half, the scoreline read 0-0 at the break.

The most noteworthy moment in the opening five minutes of the second half was a crunching tackle on Ribery by Arbeloa. There was some concern as coach Deschamps barked orders from the touchline, but the number seven was soon on his feet once again.

The resulting Valbuena free kick was then parried wide by Valdes under pressure from Pogba and Koscielny.

Spain responded with a brilliant move between Xavi and Iniesta. The latter’s first touch inside the box was excellent and it required an even better save from Lloris to keep the match goalless.

Benzema’s header in the 57th minute was inches wide of Valdes’ post as the second half began in more effervescent fashion than the first. It was clear that a goal was imminent.

Pedro made it 1-0 a minute before the hour mark.

An astute cross-field ball from Xavi found Monreal, who sped past Jallet and fired a low drive across the face of goal. The left-back’s cross was met by Pedro past a sprawling Lloris, who could only push the ball into his own net.

France's goalkeeper Hugo Lloris (C) looks at the ball rolling in his net during the World Cup 2014 qualifying football match France vs Spain on March 26, 2013 at the Stade de France

France’s goalkeeper Hugo Lloris (C) looks at the ball rolling in his net during the World Cup 2014 qualifying football match France vs Spain on March 26, 2013 at the Stade de France

France now needed to come at Spain, who made their first change of the game. Jesus Navas came on for Villa.

Ribery played in Matuidi in the 63rd minute, but his effort was directed straight at Valdes.

Spain were playing the ball around with ease, popping the ball around in an attempt to tire the French. That was quite evident when Matuidi bundled over Iniesta. Both the PSG man and Cabaye got booked in this game and will miss France’s next game against Georgia.

In an attempt to introduce more attacking verve into the side, Cabaye was withdrawn for Jeremy Menez in the 70th minute.

A delightful through-ball from Xavi found the sprinting Navas, but his cut-back towards goal was cleared by Koscielny before anything could come of it.

Valbuena’s corner in the 75th minute was not dealt with by Valdes and fell straight to Varane. His effort deflected wide off Monreal but that gilt-edged opportunity was going off target anyway.

Del Bosque decided to focus on the defensive as he withdrew goalscorer Pedro for Cesc Fabregas. He was booked just seconds after coming on as he attempted to waste time, as was Pogba. The Juventus midfielder was in the centre of an argument with a clutch of Spanish players.

That issue obviously played a part in his subsequent tackle on Xavi, which got him his second yellow less than a minute after he received his first, that got him sent off. He may be penalised further as he was sarcastically applauding the referee as he went off the pitch.

A chorus of boos accompanied the withdrawal of Benzema as the former Olympique Lyonnais man was withdrawn in front of the primarily Parisian crowd.

His replacement Moussa Sissoko got himself involved in proceedings straight away, galloping forward and feeding Ribery. His effort was narrowly wide as yet another crucial French opportunity went amiss.

Valdes was forced into another brilliant save as he denied Evra from point-blank range following Valbuena’s free kick.

With just two minutes of regulation time remaining, the Spanish attempted to keep the ball from the French for as long as possible.

Lloris denied Busquets in the first of the three minutes of added time as Olivier Giroud was introduced for Jallet and Juan Mata replaced Iniesta.

That made little difference for the French, as Spain held on to jump to the top of Group I.

France 0-1 Spain

Pedro 58’

Referee: Viktor Kassai

Lineups:

France: Lloris (c); Jallet (Giroud 90’+1), Koscielny, Varane, Evra; Cabaye (Menez 70’), Matuidi, Pogba (s/o 78’); Ribery, Valbuena, Benzema (Sissoko 82’)

Subs not used: Mandanda, Landreau, Fanni, Sakho, Yanga-Mbiwa, Clichy, Gonalons, Remy, Payet

Manager: Didier Deschamps

Spain: Valdes; Arbeloa, Ramos, Pique, Monreal; Busquets, Alonso, Xavi (c); Iniesta (Mata 90’+2), Pedro (Fabregas 77’), Villa (Navas 61’)

Subs not used: Reina, de Gea, Albiol, Azpilicueta, Garcia, Isco, Cazorla, Negredo

Manager: Vicente del Bosque

Stats:

France: Shots (on goal): 14 (2), Fouls: 22, Corner Kicks: 5, Offsides: 3, Yellow Cards:2, Red Cards: 1, Saves: 2

Spain: Shots (on goal): 10 (3), Fouls: 8, Corner Kicks: 1, Offsides: 5, Yellow Cards: 3, Red Cards: 0, Saves: 2

Possession: France 25% – 75% Spain

Upcoming Fixtures:

Uruguay vs. France, TBD, International Friendly.

Ecuador vs. Spain, TBD, International Friendly.

Georgia vs. France, 09/06/2013, 2014 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers.

Finland vs. Spain, 09/06/2013, 2014 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers.

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