The two favourites in World Cup qualifying Group I meet on Tuesday (20:00 BST) when Spain host France at the Vicente Calderon in Madrid.
Both sides come into the match having won both of their qualifiers to date, although there can be little doubt as to which of the teams has the better recent pedigree.
As befits a team who have won the last three major international tournaments in which they have competed, Spain’s record in competitive matches over the last four years is nothing short of incredible.
Since the start of Euro 2008, taking in that tournament, the World Cup of 2010, Euro 2012, and the qualification processes for the latter two, in normal play, including extra time, Spain have won 35 of 39 matches. They have lost just once (to Switzerland in the group stage of the 2010 World Cup) and of the three draws, two were knockout matches won on penalties.
Spain qualified for both the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 with a 100% record, scoring 54 and conceding 11 in winning 18 matches. In fact, the last time they failed to win a qualifying match for a major tournament was back in September 2007 – a 1-1 draw away to Iceland.
They began the 2014 World Cup qualifying group with an edgy 1-0 win away to Georgia courtesy of a late Roberto Soldado strike. They were far more impressive in their 4-0 thrashing of Belarus on Friday, Barcelona’s Pedro scoring a hat-trick in a vibrant display of clever movement and precise passing.
Coach Vicente Del Bosque employed a striker-less 4-3-3 formation, with Cesc Fabregas in the False 9 role flanked by Pedro and David Silva. With Santi Cazorla slightly advanced in front of Xavi and Xabi Alonso in midfield, and Jordi Alba steaming up and down the left hand side, Spain had countless options in possession and were able to weave intricate patterns through the Belarusian defence.
A slightly fortunate opener, which saw Alba round the goalkeeper to finish from a clearly offside position, was followed by three extremely accomplished finishes from Pedro – assisted by Silva, Xavi and Fabregas respectively. Pedro’s clever movement in off the flank was vital to the successful implementation of the formation.
Del Bosque rested Andres Iniesta from the start and looks to have no significant injury worries to contend with providing Sergio Ramos overcomes the slight knock that saw him withdrawn after 70 minutes of Friday’s match.
Success has imbued the current Spanish side with confidence and belief, attributes that have recently proven fragile constructs for their opponents on Tuesday. France have succumbed to internal tensions in their last two major tournaments, in-fighting putting paid to their hopes of success.
Didier Deschamps is the latest coach to take up the increasingly unenviable task of forming a cohesive team unit from an oft-divided squad. He has kept things tight in his four matches in charge to date: France securing two clean sheets and conceding just twice in two wins, one draw and one defeat.
Deschamps’ pre-match utterance that “it is not always the dominant team that wins,” suggests he will employ a defensive approach on Tuesday, looking to stifle Spain in midfield and break quickly in the hope of grabbing goals on the counter-attack. Similar tactics were ineffective for previous coach Laurent Blanc, whose team fell to a limp 2-0 defeat to Spain in the quarter finals of Euro 2012.
Deschamps’ hopes of getting a result have been dealt a blow by the suspension of first choice central defender Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, who was in the process of forming a good partnership with Mamadou Sakho.
Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny was paired with Sakho in France’s 1-0 home defeat to Japan on Friday and looks likely to get the nod against Spain after a solid performance. Koscielny is, however, prone to lapses in concentration, which could prove costly against a clinical Spanish attack.
France are also without midfielders Abou Diaby and Rio Mavuba, but have acceptable replacements available. Newcastle’s Yoann Cabaye is likely to be partnered by two from Blaise Matuidi, Moussa Sissoko and Etienne Capoue.
Up front, Deschamps will be slightly concerned that neither Karim Benzema or Oliver Giroud have found the back of the net in his four matches in charge to date. There is a possibility either one could make way for a wide midfielder/forward (probably Frank Ribery), but it is more likely they will start together, just ahead of Jeremy Menez.
Spain v France Betting Tips Verdict
Spain (1/2) are the favourites and it is difficult to make a case for France (best @ 7/2 with SkyBet) getting something from this match. The home team’s movement in forward areas is likely to be too much for a relatively unacquainted French defence, while it seems improbable the visitors’ under-performing attack will outscore Del Bosque’s team.
- The draw is biggest at 7/1 with William Hill but we advise backing Spain to win @ 1/2 with Betfred, Blue Square or Ladbrokes.
- France’s attempts to keep things tight early on mean that the first half is likely to be a cagey affair, with the match then opening up a little in the second half. Therefore back the second half to be the highest scoring half @ 21/20 with Bet365 or BetVictor.