Pedro’s goal in the early stages of the second half helped Spain to a vital 1-0 win over France in Paris, putting them top of World Cup qualifying Group I with three games remaining.
Both sides traded chances in the opening stages, with Andres Iniesta and Franck Ribery both missing gilt-edged opportunities for the all-important first goal.
Spain had a penalty appeal waved away in the first half, with Pedro appearing to be caught by Hugo Lloris in the French goal, but the Barcelona forward got his goal in the second half, scraping the ball home after Nacho Monreal’s cross.
Despite France probing in the latter stages, Paul Pogba made his side’s task even harder by receiving two yellow cards in the space of a minute, and Spain held on for a vital win.
In a vibrant Stade de France, the home support knew a win would take them to within touching distance of the World Cup at the hands of the current champions.
The visitors should have been ahead within six minutes, with Arsenal defender Monreal pulling the ball back in the six yard box after being released by Iniesta, only for Xavi to lash the ball over the bar with the goal gaping.
Playing against many of his Real Madrid team-mates, Karim Benzema had a decent chance to put France ahead shortly after, but failed to keep his shot down from 18 yards after Christophe Jallet’s pull back.
But Spain attempted to bring themselves back into the game gradually, with Xabi Alonso at the heart of each attack that were ultimately thwarted by an organised French defence in the first period.
Spain claimed they should have had a penalty after half an hour, with Pedro being brought down by Lloris after taking the ball around the Tottenham goalkeeper. Contact was made, but with Pedro falling slightly beforehand, referee Victor Hassai waved play on.
France nearly took the lead before half-time, with Ribery expertly released through on goal by Mathieu Valbuena, only to find his shot from 18 yards blocked by the onrushing Victor Valdes.
Lloris kept the scores level just after the break, keeping out Iniesta’s snapshot from inside the area after being put through by Xavi.
But Spain opened the scoring just before the hour mark, with Xavi’s long ball finding Monreal, who got in behind the French defence before pulling the ball back to Pedro, who just managed to scrape the ball home past the flailing Lloris.
Pedro then had a chance to double Spain’s lead and his own tally from eight yards after substitute Jesus Navas’s pullback, but he saw his shot sail over the bar.
And with Pogba sent off for two dangerous challenges in the space of 60 seconds, the home side’s task was made harder.
But France did have several half chances to equalise, with Blaise Matuidi’s header forcing a fantastic save from Valdes with just minutes remaining.
Spain held on for the vital win, which sees them top of Group I by a single point with three games remaining.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Xabi Alonso (Spain): The midfielder was constantly looking to go forward, but remained calm under pressure from a vibrant French team before Spain got their goal.
FRANCE: Lloris 5; Jallet 7, Varane 6, Koscielny 7, Evra 5; Cabaye 6, Pogba 6, Matuidi 6; Valbuena 7, Benzema 5, Ribery 7; Subs: Menez 6, Sissoko 6.
SPAIN: Valdes 6; Arbeloa 6, Pique 7, Ramos 6, Monreal 7; Busquets 6, Alonso 8, Xavi 6; Pedro 7, Iniesta 7, Villa 6; Subs: Navas 7, Fabregas 6.
- Sports & Recreation
- Hugo Lloris
- Andres Iniesta