France 0, Spain 1: Grading France's Players in the Loss
In the World Cup qualifier against Spain, a number of France's players performed with encouraging showings.
Despite the 1-0 loss, Les Bleus can take heart from the displays of Raphael Varane and Paul Pogba, who both delivered fine demonstrations of their talents despite their relatively tender years.
Franck Ribery and Blaise Matuidi were also impressive for the hosts, but while many performed well on the international stage, players such as Karim Benzema and Christophe Jallet may be left fearing for their place in the team after failing to produce their best.
The 1-0 loss more than likely leaves Didier Deschamps' side facing a playoff to reach the Finals, but the man who captained his country to the World title should now have a better idea of the lineup most suited to achieving that goal.
Here are the French player grades from a fascinating evening at the Stade De France on Tuesday.
Hugo Lloris: C
The Tottenham keeper did not have much to do for the majority of the contest despite Spain's superiority.
Despite enjoying a relatively relaxed evening for the most part, the Spurs stopper looked shaky during two of the game's biggest moments. The 26-year-old was fortunate not to concede a penalty and could have been sent off, had the referee elected to punish him after he appeared to bring down Pedro as the Barcelona forward raced toward goal late in the first half.
Later, Lloris couldn't prevent Pedro from bundling home a close-range strike. Although the keeper was able to get a hand on the shot, he only palm the ball into the side of the goalmouth.
Lloris will hope to improve on his showing in France's next set of internationals. Although he failed to provide an assured presence behind the back four, he can hardly be considered the villain of the piece from a French perspective.
Christophe Jallet: D
The Paris Saint-Germain full-back has been in impressive form this season in both domestic and European competition; however, this was not one of his better nights. The 29-year-old struggled to provide much of an attacking threat down the right flank and was directly responsible for Spain's winner, allowing Xavi to sneak in down the left and fire the telling ball across the face of goal.
Raphael Varane: A
Another successful evening for Real Madrid's emerging star. On a night when many around him crumbled in the face of the world's best side, Varane stood tall. The 19-year-old made a number of strong tackles and denied Spain striker David Villa the time and space to make much of an impact up front. Varane's reputation continues to grow.
Laurent Koscielny: C
The Arsenal defender's selection over Mamadou Sakho was a contentious one, and it proved to be a below-par night for the former Lorient man. He failed to track the run of Pedro, enabling the winger to slip into the box and give the Spaniards the lead.
Patrice Evra: C
Evra had one of the best chances of the game for Les Bleus, but his diving header was brilliantly saved by Victor Valdes to keep the visitors ahead. That was the highlight of a quiet game for the Manchester United left-back, who appeared to struggle with the pace of Pedro and then Jesus Navas when he was thrown into the fray.
Blaise Matuidi: B
The 25-year-old has matured brilliantly in his second season with Paris Saint-Germain, and his presence as a physical box-to-box midfielder allowed France to compete with Spain's playmakers. Matuidi almost found the leveler midway through the second half when he burst into the box only to see his shot well held by Valdes. This performance underlined why he is seen as one of the most underrated players in world football.
Paul Pogba: C
Electing to start the Juventus midfielder was always a gamble, and it backfired on Deschamps. Pogba was sent off in the second period for two consecutive bookings in the space of a few minutes. However, the dismissal should not overshadow a largely excellent showing from the former Manchester United man, who complemented Matuidi superbly. He battled well to produce a number of fine tackles whilst looking to set his side off on the attack with slick passing whenever possible.
Yohan Cabaye: C
It was a quiet night for the Newcastle United maestro, who found himself stifled on a number of occasions by a Spain side that pressed consistently and in numbers. The visitors looked to shackle the creative Cabaye and were successful for much of the game, reducing him to speculative efforts from distance. However, the 27-year-old was involved in one of the better moves of the match, playing an expertly placed ball down the right wing for Jallet to race on to toward the latter part of the first half.
Mathieu Valbuena: C
Deployed in an advanced role on the right flank, Valbuena was given lots of freedom to roam when France attacked, and he was arguably the home side's most exciting player of the evening. His delivery from set-pieces was impressive, and although Spain struggled to contain the Marseille star, he will perhaps be disappointed that he did not create more opportunities for his teammates to capitalize on.
Franck Ribery: B
The Bayern Munich winger has often been the star of the show for France in recent times, and he was again one of the outstanding players in this game. He fired just wide of the near post late in the game as France looked to level matters and also fluffed a chance his side the advantage in the opening period when through on goal. Ribery demonstrated that he has the quality and the pace to trouble world-class defenses on a consistent basis. He should remain a regular in the starting XI.
Karim Benzema: F
Another international failure for Benzema, who did not make any noteworthy contributions. The Real Madrid striker was a nonexistent presence in attacking areas and was eventually booed off by the Stade De France crowd. His first-team place should be considered under threat, and his continued lack of goals gives Deschamps a major problem to solve.
Jeremy Menez: C
The PSG winger was brought on for Cabaye midway into the second half but did not have the impact that had been desired with his introduction. Denied the space and freedom to get in behind the visiting defense, Menez was ineffectual and endured a frustrating time on the pitch.
Moussa Sissoko: C
Perhaps the most effective of France's substitutes, Sissoko gave the hosts a physical presence in the middle following Pogba's dismissal. The Newcastle man almost set up an equalizer, overpowering Sergio Busquets to feed Ribery, who fired wide.
Olivier Giroud: C
The man who earned France a point in their reverse fixture in Valencia back in October was thrown on in injury time and played nothing more than an unsuccessful cameo on this occasion.