Spain vs. France: Scoring the Key Battles in World Cup Qualifier
France scored an injury-time equaliser in Madrid, as they rescued a point, drawing 1-1 against Spain in the Group I World Cup 2014 qualifying match.
Despite Spain dominating possession for much of the match, it was a game of relatively few clear-cut chances.
The home team took the lead when Sergio Ramos scored from close range after he initially hit the post with a header, but Cesc Fabregas spurned the chance to double Spain's lead as he saw his penalty saved by Hugo Lloris.
Injuries to David Silva and Alvaro Arbeloa didn't look immediately problematic, but Arbeloa's replacement Juanfran lost possession too easily as the match wound down to a close, allowing France to break and Olivier Giroud to head in a late equaliser.
Here we score the key matchups from the game.
Jordi Alba vs Mathieu Debuchy
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The left-back for Spain against the right-back for France was a feature of the game from the first few minutes.
Jordi Alba was at his marauding best for much of the game, driving into space down the left channel as Jeremy Menez failed entirely to track back and offer support to his fullback, Mathieu Debuchy.
Alba sent over several dangerous crosses and, though he didn't claim an assist this time, was one of Spain's best attacking outlets.
Debuchy did not get forward at all and was largely helpless against the constant waves of Spanish attacks.
Winner: Jordi Alba
Sergio Ramos vs. Karim Benzema
Spain's one-fit natural centre back, Sergio Ramos, came up against club teammate Karim Benzema, France's centre forward.
Ramos barely had any actual defending to do for much of the game, save for recycling possession deep for his team and bringing the ball out whenever he got the chance.
Benzema chased willingly, but very little fell his way in truth.
Even in terms of goalscoring, it was the defender who came out on top; Ramos hit the post with a header and then rifled in the follow up, while Benzema's best efforts were repelled.
The striker was substituted late on with an injury.
Winner: Sergio Ramos
Cesc Fabregas vs. Laurent Koscielny
As Spain lined up without a centre forward again, Cesc Fabregas took up the mantle of playing as the most advanced central attacking player in the false nine position.
His more-or-less direct adversary was Laurent Koscielny, playing centre back for France alongside Mamadou Sakho.
Cesc showed his usual good endeavour, but his movement was never quite enough to trouble the experienced French pairing unduly, and few scoring opportunities fell his way...other than his poorly-struck, missed penalty, of course.
Koscielny was the guilty party there, as he recklessly brought down Pedro, but aside from that one mis-timed challenge, the defender barely put a foot wrong all game.
Winner: Laurent Koscielny
Vicente Del Bosque vs. Didier Deschamps
Two great names of the game came face-to-face as managers, with Vicente del Bosque playing an unsurprising side, recalling Andres Iniesta and keeping Sergio Busquets in at centre back.
Didier Deschamps went for a three-man midfield in Cabaye, Gonalons and Matuidi, but the French trio barely got a look in against pass-masters Xavi, Xabi Alonso and Iniesta.
Spain attacked impressively and at tempo from kickoff and certainly deserved their lead at the break, though it was to their eventual detriment that they never finished off any of a succession of opportunities to double their lead.
France showed resolve and committed more to going forward as the game wore on and only one goal separated the sides, but for over an hour, it was a defensive and not overly-impressive performance from France.
Winner: Vicente del Bosque
Spain vs. France
Despite the game finishing 1-1, we can certainly say there was a "winner" here.
Spain's domination of the match, coupled with their imperious home World Cup qualifying record, made this a difficult game at any point for the French team.
France were not impressive for much of the match and relied more on Spain continually failing to take chances rather than defending well against them and, until the final 20 minutes of the game, made little attempt to create their own chances.
Having said that, it must be recognised that France had a perfectly legitimate goal ruled out for an incorrect offside decision in the first half.
Nonetheless, trailing against the World and European champions after two minutes of injury time—normally, a team would probably expect to finish up losing.
Big credit, then, to France for pushing forward one last time late on—and getting their reward.