FIFA World Cup qualifiers: Pedro scores as Spain earn priceless win over France
Paris: Spain took control of UEFA World Cup qualifying Group I thanks to a 1-0 win over France at Stade de France.
Pedro scored the only goal of the game just before the hour mark from a Nacho Monreal cross as reward for a great deal of pressure imposed by the world champions. France, meanwhile, finished with 10 men as Paul Pogba saw red.
For all of la Roja’s dominance of possession, though, there had been only a few suggestions they would be able to break their hosts’ resistance before a typically visionary cross-field pass from Xavi released Monreal down the left. Having sprinted in behind the French rearguard, the Arsenal defender centred for Pedro to scramble past Hugo Lloris.
Those two protagonists had been at the heart of some first-half controversy as the attacker went down under a challenge from the goalkeeper in the box, yet play was waved on despite some contact being apparent.
As early as the fifth minute Spain had shown intent, yet Xavi inexplicably scooped over from just six yards out after being teed up by Monreal and this would be one of their few genuine sights on goal in the first period.
Indeed, France otherwise had the clearest openings in the first half but the much-criticised Karim Benzema could not profit from Christophe Jallet’s energetic raid down the right, while Franck Ribery missed their best chance as he was thwarted by Victor Valdes after being released by Mathieu Valbuena.
After the break, the threat from the hosts was more muted, and Lloris had to be sharp to touch over from Andres Iniesta prior to Pedro’s breakthrough, which changed the dynamic of the game.
Blaise Matuidi had an opportunity to equalise after being set up by Ribery, but Valdes got his body firmly behind the Paris Saint-Germain man’s drive, and Raphael Varane could not quite scramble home from a corner kick.
Even after Pogba had been dismissed for two yellow cards in the space of a couple of minutes, France offered a threat, with Ribery blasting a shot narrowly past.
Spain would dominate possession until the end, yet aside from the occasional raid from Jesus Navas down the right flank they were largely toothless with regards a threat on Lloris’ goal until the Tottenham keeper denied Sergio Busquets in stoppage-time.
Ultimately that would not matter as la Roja inflicted the first competitive defeat upon Didier Deschamps’ France, which means they have leapfrogged the hosts into the summit of Group I. A one-point advantage offers Spain little insurance, yet the defending world champions are now firm favourites to qualify for Brazil 2014 outright, with les Bleus facing a playoff.