Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : March 26th 2013 Contents A63
Tuesday, March 26, 2013 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
PARIS---Spain will edge closer to an unex-
pected playoff place if it fails to beat France
in their World Cup qualifier today.
The Spanish surprisingly drew 1-1 against
Finland on Friday while the French beat
Georgia 3-1, giving them the initiative in
Group I and a chance to open up a five-
point lead if they win at Stade de France.
Even a draw suits France, as Spain would
then only have three matches left to close
"The unity we have within this squad is
our strength and we have to preserve that
whatever happens," Spain defender Sergio
Ramos said Monday through an interpreter.
"We will stick to our way of playing. We're
not going to change now."
When Spain won its third straight major
title at last year's European Championship,
it seemed inconceivable that it would then
struggle to qualify automatically for the
Following a run of 24 straight wins in
qualifying games dating back to 2007, a
mini-slump of two consecutive draws has
led to early whispers that its dominant grip
on world football may finally be loosening.
"We have a lot of faith in our ability,"
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said. "We
knew that France would be our toughest
France grabbed a last-gasp equaliser away
to Spain in October, and even dominated
in the second half---forcing the Spanish into
some panicky defending---but coach Didier
Deschamps does not see this is a sign of a
He thinks the draw against Finland had
more to do with poor finishing than how
the visitors played---even though Spain again
surrendered an equaliser by defending lazi-
"It didn't stop Spain creating a load of chances.
They just didn't take them," Deschamps said, adding
that he is not going to set his team up to play for
"Spain will come here with the same intentions
they had before the Finland game. Whether they're
playing at home or away they try and control the
game," he said. "Thinking only about defending is
not the right approach."
There are signs of weakness in Spain's defence.
The way it conceded the equaliser to Finland led
to a heated row between Real Madrid's Alvaro Arbeloa
and Gerard Pique of Barcelona as club tensions resur-
faced. Pique reproached Arbeloa for not closing down
his right flank and allowing the cross from which
Teemu Pukki scored. Arbeloa shouted back at Pique,
who then told him to shut up.
Spain has failed to protect a 1-0 home lead in its
past two qualifiers, suggesting it tires late on.
"These are two different games. France attacked
in the second half so it was perhaps more a question
of fatigue and we were more open," Del Bosque said.
"With Finland it wasn't a case of fatigue but more
the fact that we couldn't score."
While Spain needs to get its ruthlessness back,
France has backed struggling striker Karim Benzema,
who has not scored in his 11 games for France and
managed only three in his past 23.
Benzema has been France's No. 1 striker since 2010
but his slump has led to calls in some sections of
the French media to drop him and start with Olivier
Giroud in attack. Giroud scored against Georgia and
Spain with headers. But Deschamps swatted away
any suggestions that he will bench Benzema.
"Doubting Benzema's quality is folly. Whether it's
for Real Madrid or France he's an exceptional player,"
club teammate Ramos said. "I will have to concentrate
all the time because if you forget him for one second
it's a goal."
Thankfully for Deschamps, other sectors of the
French attack are in full flow, with left winger Franck
Ribery and attacking midfielder Mathieu Valbuena
in excellent form---particularly Valbuena, who scored
a great goal and created the other two against Geor-
"France is a physical team," del Bosque said. "But
they have players who are technical and quick, like
Ribery, Valbuena and (Yohan) Cabaye."
Considering how Spain has conceded its last two
goals in qualifying, Ribery---who set up Giroud's
equalizer in Spain with a cross from the left --- poses
a major threat to Arbeloa.
Del Bosque, however, says he will not shift Ramos
over to right back in Arbeloa's place.
Pressure on Spain as it heads to Paris
French coach Didier Deschamps
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