Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
Spain players celebrate their 4-0 victory over Belarus on Friday. The world and European champions will be looking to extend their winning start in Group I against France tonight. Tatyana Zenkovich / EPA
Spain players celebrate their 4-0 victory over Belarus on Friday. The world and European champions will be looking to extend their winning start in Group I against France tonight. Tatyana Zenkovich / EPA

World Cup qualifying: It is Spain who reign supreme

France have the edge between the two sides historically, but they face a side currently beyond compare in their 2014 World Cup qualifier, writes Andy Mitten.

Laurent Blanc was not impressed when his France side were drawn in the same World Cup qualifying group as European and World Champions Spain.

Only one team per group are guaranteed to go to Brazil in 2014 and Blanc pointed to far easier groups.

Blanc need not have worried - he stepped down in June after Spain beat France 2-0 in the quarter-finals to eliminate them from Euro 2012 in Ukraine, the first time Spain had beaten France in a major tournament clash.

Blanc may have played for Les Bleus in their golden age, but now Spain reign supreme.

The pair meet tonight at Atletico Madrid's Vicente Calderon which is being used for an international venue for only the 10th time. Spain have won seven and drawn the other two games.

Both countries have won both of their two games so far in Group I, but France face the challenging task of avoiding defeat knowing that key players are injured.

Lassana Diarra, Rio Mavuba and Abou Diaby are out, while defender Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa misses the game through suspension.

Team selection is for Blanc's successor, Didier Deschamps, to worry about. He admits the replacements are players "whose experience on an international level is quite weak".

But he adds: "I've nothing to be worried about and I don't want the players to be. We're going to fight with the weapons we have, and the players we have. The lack of experience can be made up by determination and will power."

He will look to Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema to lead his attack. Benzema's club teammate, Raul Albiol, will likely mark him.

But while Albiol warns: "We know Benzema, we know he's a great player," the reality is that the striker has not scored in more than a year for France. His average of a goal every four games for his country is half that of his club.

The status of the two neighbours has switched. France were never out of the top six in the world rankings for a decade between 1996-2006 when they enjoyed their golden period, winning the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championship, as well as finishing runners-up in the 2006 World Cup, but they have long since slipped.

They dropped as low as 27th in 2010 after the shambles of their last World Cup. They are currently 13th.

Spain, in contrast, have occupied either first or second place since July 2008 and even the Brazil coach, Mano Menezes, last week conceded his side do not compare to the Spanish.

La Roja have won the last three meetings (including two friendly games) but France have the better historical record in key games.

Because of their usual high rankings, the teams only normally meet in the finals of competitions rather than group stages. And when they do, France usually win.

Until that June victory in Ukraine, France were the last team to knock Spain out of a competition, the 2006 World Cup.

They also knocked the Iberians out of Euro 2000, while finishing above them in their group at Euro '96. This is the first time that the two are paired in the same qualifying group since Euro '92. Back then, France beat Spain home and away to prevent them from qualifying for the finals in Sweden.

Spain unmistakably start favourites tonight. They have won their last 25 home games in all competitions, a winning run stretching back to 2006 when Romania won a friendly 1-0 in Cadiz.

They have not lost a competitive game at home since losing to Greece in a European Championship qualifier 1-0 in Zaragoza nine years ago. No team in world football can match that record.

Vicente del Bosque's side go into the match after hammering Belarus 4-0 in Minsk on Friday, a game which saw Barcelona's Pedro score a hat-trick.

Spain started without a recognised No 9, though they are likely to go with Fernando Torres. The Chelsea and Spain striker returns to play a game at the stadium he calls home for the first time in five and a half years since he left Atletico for Liverpool.

France will be hoping he is not as effective as he was then.


Back to the top

More articles

Editor's Picks

 Al Ahli's Ismail Al Hammadi, left, battles for the ball during the Arabian Gulf Cup final between against Al Jazira at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on April 19, 2014. Al Hammadi hit the game-winner in the 81st minute for Ahli. Al Ittihad

Al Ahli maintain course for domestic treble with victory over Al Jazira in Arabian Gulf Cup

Al Ahli maintained their hopes of a domestic treble with a superb comeback victory against Al Jazira in the Arabian Gulf Cup final on Saturday night.

 Alex Kacaniklic, left, of Fulham tackles Christian Eriksen of Tottenham Hotspur during their Premier League match at White Hart Lane on April 19, 2014, in London, England. Clive Rose / Getty Images

Tottenham keep pace in chase for European places with victory over Fulham

Swansea appear to be safe after rallying past Newcastle while Crystal Palace continue their winning streak

 On a track described as a ‘tyre-killer’ in Shanghai, Lewis Hamilton went untested on his way to a 34th pole – the most by a British driver – yesterday. Carlos Barria / Reuters

Hamilton has sympathy for fans hung out to dry with wet tyre rules

The Briton takes his career's 34th pole - the most by a British driver - but sympathises it was not ideal for the ticket-paying public.

 Yuzvendra Chahal, centre, and the Royal Challengers Bangalore teammates celebrate after the bowlers set up an easy win over Mumbai Indians. Pawan Singh / The National

Bowlers set up Bangalore as Patel stand tall over Mumbai

Mumbai bowlers gave early hope but Parthiv Patel and AB de Villiers' unbeaten stand of 99 ensures second defeat for the men in blue in Dubai.

 Roelof Kotzee is leading UAE to unchartered territory. Sarah Dea / The National

UAE step into the unknown ahead of Asian Five Nations

Performance manager Roelof Kotze will give 12 players their first experience of international rugby, but there is also minimal information on Singapore ahead of first Test in Dubai on Wednesday, reports Paul Radley.

 Novak Djokovic of Serbia winces in pain during his semi-final match against Roger Federer of Switzerland at the Monte Carlo Masters on April 19, 2014. Federer prevailed to set up an all-Swiss final with Stanislas Wawrinka. SEBASTIEN NOGIER / EPA

Ailing Djokovic will ‘just rest now’ while Nadal not pressing the panic button

Djokovic says only rest will help is injured right wrist after he falls to Roger Federer on Saturday, and Nadal suffers just his third career defeat in Monte Carlo when he slumped to a shock 7-6, 6-4 quarter-final loss to compatriot Ferrer on Friday.


To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National