The current World and European Champions, Spain, will face France in the Stade de France (Saint Denis) in Paris tonight knowing only a win will do to guarantee them qualification for next year’s World Cup in Brazil.
La Roja go into the titanic clash having dropped 2 vital home points, in a 1-1 draw at el Molinón in Gijón, against an un-fancied Finland on Friday evening conceding the leadership of Group I to France, who have a two point advantage after their 3-1 win over Georgia.
Coach Vicente del Bosque will now have to rally his troops for a must win match in Paris against a team that has traditionally proven hard for Spain to overcome. Memories of the 1984 European Championship Final defeat, also in Paris, and World Cup losses in 1998 and 2006 to the French linger in the memory.
However, the 2-0 victory over Les Bleus in Euro 2012 was Spain’s first finals victory over them in a Finals tournament and along with their three back to back tournament wins has gone a long way to boosting Spanish confidence and given them the belief that they can overcome their neighbours tonight.
The two sides drew 1-1 earlier in qualifying at the Vicente Calderón in Madrid in what was truly a game of two halves. Spain dominated the 1st taking the lead through a Sergio Ramos header from a corner, but the French came back into the match in the 2nd half and scored a deserved equaliser through Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud.
The Arsenal striker could well be a starting option this evening as Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema has fallen out of favour with the French public for his lack of goals as well as his refusal to sing la Marseillaise, the French National Anthem.
Didier Deschamps, France’s National Coach will be relying on a strong defensive performance, but has many attacking options including Benzema, Giroud, Ribery and Valbuena. The latter comes from Spanish parentage, but any feelings of loyalty to his Father’s homeland will go out of the window at kick off and he is a real threat having scored in his last three international appearances.
France would be expected to set up to absorb Spanish pressure and hit on the counterattack, but Vicente del Bosque does not believe the French will play with two defensive lines in front of their own fans and hopes for an open game to suit the usual Spainish passing style.
For Spain, once again, the majority of the first 11 will be F.C. Barcelona players, prompting many to claim that la selección are a one club team. On Friday evening against Finland, 7 Barça players started the match, the same number that broke Germany’s long standing record of six in a Final in the 2010 World Cup Final in South Africa.
The expected starting 11 for tonight is: Victor Valdés; Alvaro Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Piqué, Nacho Monreal; Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso, Xavi Hernández; Andrés Iniesta, David Villa or Cesc Fàbregas and Pedro.