Spain in crisis. Spain on the defensive. Perhaps it says as much about the modern game that their coach, Vicente del Bosque, was forced to justify the philosophy of the world and European champions. Spain have drawn two of their four Group I World Cup qualifying games (they won the other two) but those dropped points, the most recent against Finland, gives significantly more importance to their game against France in Paris on Tuesday night.
Teemu Pukki was not expected to score a late equaliser for the Finns. Sergio Ramos was not expecting to celebrate his 100th cap (he is still only 26) without victory after his goal put Spain ahead. "We have a great team in front of us [France] but we can beat them and we have to go with this mentality," Ramos said of the game against the group leaders. "We have always remained faithful to our philosophy and style and I don't think we should change that. We shouldn't change what has served us well in the past and has helped us be successful."
Spain were without goalkeeper Iker Casillas, central defender Carles Puyol, and central midfielders Xavi and Xabi Alonso against Finland. The midfielders, so vital to the way they play, are likely to return at the Stade de France. However, the injured left-back Jordi Alba misses out.
"Both [Xavi and Alonso] are fine but we are not going to risk anyone and it will be the players who take the final decision," Del Bosque said. "Nobody will be forced to play if they are not at 100 percent. Xavi is the best doctor and if he feels he can play he will do so.
"Of course it worries us a bit when we have so much possession and are camped on their penalty area but cannot get through but at the same time there is no reason to get nervous or lose patience. I don't expect the game against France to be like that. It's going to be much more open than the Finland game. I hope they play defensively and we can spend the whole match around their penalty area. Normally we would finish as winners.
"We are not anxious at all. It is logical to reflect after our last two games. Despite dominating we couldn't score more than once, so it is understandable that people will have doubts, but we must stay calm, open up the pitch and use the width. We need solutions.
"They have talented players such as [Karim] Benzema, [Franck] Ribéry, [Yohan] Cabaye, [Mathieu] Valbuena. They have power in the full-back areas, too, and are a very good team. When the draw was made we knew France would be very difficult opponents for us. They have quality, experience and know how to play games like these."
Victory tonight would take France five points clear with only three games to go in the group, and nudge Spain nearer to the play-offs for a chance to defend their title in Brazil next year. Even a repeat of October's 1-1 draw in Spain would put Didier Deschamps' side in a good position to finish top.
"It was a great surprise," said Deschamps of the Finland game. "I saw it and Spain deserved to win. This changes nothing. Spain are still the best team in the world. They were before, they are now and they will be after tomorrow. Their draw was incredibly bad luck, looking at the chances they had. To beat Spain we will have to have a perfect game."Reuse content