A true test of Spain’s character is waiting in Paris tonight, as a resurgent France team will hope to capitalise on a reigning champions’ recent wobble to put the group firmly in their hands. This is perhaps the first time in half a decade that Vincente del Bosque’s men have found themselves in a position of weakness, however, a win tonight will change the complexion of the group immeasurably.
A home draw to Finland on Friday hasn’t done La Roja any favours, although tendency to over pass was their eventual undoing rather than any obvious weakness. The facts are, though, that they are two points off the pace, and face a side who have won both their home games so far, scoring six in the process.
The hosts, galvanised by new manager Didier Deschamps, are doing their best to repair a reputation that was so badly tarnished in South Africa three years ago. A solid, if slightly disappointing European Championships, followed by a good start to World Cup qualification has France well and truly on the road to recovery. Their progress was highlighted by the reverse of this fixture, gaining an admirable draw in Madrid to wrestle control of the group.
Both sides boast a number of high quality individuals, but the ability of Spain to convert possession into goals, and the durability and counter-attacking capabilities of France should go a long way in deciding tonight’s game, and perhaps the group.
KICK-OFF: Tonight, 8pm
PAST THREE MEETINGS...
Spain 1 (Ramos) France 1 (Giroud), World Cup 2014 Qualifying, October 2012
Spain 2 (Xabi Alonso 2) France 0, Euro 2012, June 2012
France 0 Spain 2 (Villa, Ramos), International Friendly, March 2010
The last time Spain lost a competitive game was during their triumphant World Cup winning campaign of 2010 – losing to Switzerland in their first group game - they have been unbeaten in 23 competitive games since.
Didier Deschamp won 103 caps for France, making him the sixth highest appearance maker, captaining the nation to World Cup and European Championship triumph.
There are 17 places between the two sides in the Fifa World Rankings – Spain (1), France (17)
The golden generation of France finally get their hands on some silverware, beating Spain 2-0 in the European Championship final 1984. The impressive midfield of Jean Tigana, Alain Giresse and Michel Platini dominant their counterparts, with the later scoring a free-kick that squirms under the body of Spanish ‘keeper Luis Arconada.
France win 5/2
Spain win 9/4
TV: Live on www.independent.co.uk/sport