Wednesday, 27 March 2013


In an epic clash between two international heavyweights, it would be Spain who triumphed, 1-0, over France, courtesy of a Pedro second-half goal.
With the two nations battling for position on top of Group 9 in their World Cup-qualifying campaign, there was certainly plenty at stake for both teams.
Yet ultimately, it would be the world champions who emerged victorious with a tough and gritty win that sends them to the top of the group as a result.
This one started as expected, with Spain dominating most of the play early—controlling the midfield wonderfully through Xavi and Andres Iniesta.
They would immediately be rewarded with an opportunity for Xavi after just five minutes, as he found himself on the end of Nacho Monreal's cross just five yards out and in front of goal. However, his shot would somehow miss the goal and fly over the crossbar.
La Furia Roja would continue to dominate the chances, with France seemingly content to set up strong at the back and try to hurt their opponents on the counterattack.
Les Bleus would find themselves with a great chance to do just that after Christophe Jallet found himself with acres of space on the right flank. His cross in found Karim Benzema at the top of the box, but his shot, too, sailed over the crossbar.
Controversy occurred at the half-hour mark when Barcelona star Pedro went to the ground in the box—at first glance due to contact from French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.
However, no penalty was given, and upon further review, that may well have been a great decision from the officials.
France would see their best chance of the half fall on 38 minutes when Franck Ribery got himself in behind the Spanish defense and through on goal. His second touch was perhaps a little too long, though, and it allowed Victor Valdes to come out and shut down his shot—sending this game to the halftime interval still locked at 0-0.
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Much of the same continued after halftime, with Valdes again forced to clear dramatically from the home side after a cross nearly picked out players at the back post. Lloris would then be forced to do the same at the other end after Iniesta's curling effort.
However, he could do nothing about what would come only moments later—left flailing after a wonderful cross from the left that found Pedro just one yard out.
Pedro would just manage to get his boot on the end of the cross—beating Patrice Evra, who was supposed to be marking him—and force a shot on goal.
And while Lloris would get his hands on the initial shot, the ball would rebound off him into the net for the opening goal of the game.
After defending so gallantly, France trailed the world champions, 1-0.
Hi-res-164690589_crop_exact Scott Heavey/Getty Images
Ribery and Les Bleus would not be denied, however, and continued to try to fight their way back into this one—very nearly breaking through on 62 minutes.
The Bayern Munich star was able to set up Blaise Matuidi for a free shot on goal, but the PSG midfielder put his shot straight at Valdes.
But after 20-year-old midfielder Paul Pogba was dismissed for two bookable offenses in the space of two minutes, it seemed France's chances at success were finished here.
They struggled greatly in the final 15 minutes, down to 10 men against the tiki-taka of Spain, and ultimately fell, 1-0, on the night as a result.

Player Grades
Franck Ribery, France: B
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With Karim Benzema struggling again and France desperately defending for most of the night, Franck Ribery often found himself as the lone attacking option up front. Yet despite that, the Bayern Munich standout did exceptionally well, creating havoc for Spain's defense all night.
He was able to break free just before halftime and very nearly opened the scoring, but saw his shot saved by a sprawling Victor Valdes.
He was also able to get free on a breakaway once more and set up a great scoring chance for Blaise Matuidi, but his shot was also straight at the goalkeeper.
On a frustrating night that didn't offer much in attack, Ribery was very strong.

Xavi, Spain: A
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Having not played against Finland last weekend, Xavi's inclusion back into Spain's starting side was definitely a good move by the world champions.
He was in his usual passing masterclass and created a number of chances during the match, with which Spain really should have done more.
The Barcelona midfielder will no doubt rue the chance he missed after five minutes—especially after all that transpired—where he really should have scored. Xavi also found himself forward later on in the half, but scuffed that opportunity as well, though it is hard to fault him given the fact that he isn't a true goal-scoring threat.
A very strong night from Xavi, who allowed Spain to look much more at home with him in the middle.

Christophe Jallet, France: B
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The Paris Saint-Germain fullback's inclusion into the starting side clearly signaled an attacking intent from Didier Deschamps. And while he did take a little while to find himself with room out on the right flank, Jallet's ability to get forward and contribute was clearly felt.
The defender was beaten by a sublime Andres Iniesta pass to Nacho Monreal in the first few minutes, which nearly created the first goal, but that would be the lone instance in which he was exploited. Some may question his positioning for the goal itself, but Monreal was not his man to pick up, and he should not be held accountable for rushing up to pressure the Arsenal left-back.
It was a strong performance from Jallet. He more than held his own against Spain's mighty attack and proved to be real weapon for France going forward.

Victor Valdes, Spain: A-
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Victor Valdes wasn't called on a great deal throughout this match, but when he was, his involvement was clear and decisive, and he played a huge part in the final result.
The Barcelona goalkeeper made an excellent read to deny Franck Ribery in the first half, and came off his line brilliantly to deny the French players queuing up at the back post. And while those might not seem like moves, they were crucial in Spain hanging on for the victory.
Heavily criticized throughout the year, Valdes was very strong on this occasion, with no save more important than his 86th-minute reflex to preserve the win for Spain.

What did you take away from Spain's 1-0 win over France?