France vs. Spain: Biggest Lessons Learned from Memorable World Cup Qualifier
Billed as a clash between two European heavyweights that would have profound impacts on the 2014 World Cup, Spain's 1-0 win over France did not disappoint.
Pedro broke through for the away side and reigning world champions during the second half for the only goal of the match, but not before both teams saw some excellent opportunities and chances.
This certainly wasn't a game without it's talking points, with what we learned here likely to still be talked about in the remainder of the World Cup qualifying process. It may even help shed some light once the 2014 World Cup in Brazil actually rolls around.
Read on to see the biggest lessons learned from this World Cup qualifier.
Spain Aren't Spain Without Xavi in the Middle
Against Finland, Spain rested their star midfielder Xavi. The results of such a decision were astounding, with movement, composure and attacking direction all suffering as a result.
Back in the lineup for this one, Spain looked much more organized through the middle and a much better attacking team as a result of his inclusion. Granted he might have squandered some goal-scoring chances of his own, but let's cut him slack—that's not exactly his role in the team.
Xavi is a workhorse in the middle who is a brilliant understanding with Andres Iniesta—a partnership that Spain will look to drive them to World Cup glory.
As long as he's still doing what he does in the middle of the field, Spain are an incredibly potent side who will continue to do big things going forward.
Paul Pogba is a Future French Star
Didier Deschamps took something of a gamble here by playing Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba against the might of the Spanish midfield. After all, this was a very big game for Les Blues and one that they had a real chance of winning, but one that would still be very difficult.
And playing a 20-year-old midfielder against the likes of Xavi and Iniesta might not necessarily have been the best option to go with.
Yet for the most part, Pogba justified his coach's selection.
He was very strong in the middle in defense, and was fundamental to France getting the ball forward when they did. Moreover, Pogba showed an experience that was perhaps not excepted to be seen from him, and he showed comfort being in the middle for Les Blues.
Without a great deal of ball, Pogba was having a very strong night until two dumb tackles in the space of two minutes saw him sent off. And in doing so, he threw away any chance that the home side had of staging a comeback against La Furia Roja.
That won't have pleased Deschamps, but his performance up until that most likely will have. Look for him to be a fundamental part of their midfield through the rest of these qualifiers, as well as France's campaign once they reach the 2014 World Cup.
Few Teams Have the Ability to Beat Spain at the 2014 World Cup
With the win here, Spain showed that they will once again head to the 2014 World Cup as favorites—not that there were any ever doubts about that.
However, what they did also show in the win was the ways in which they can be beaten, with Frank Ribery showing Spain's weaknesses on the counterattack.
And it seems that for any team to beat Spain and their midfield, they've got to have counterattacking brilliance as one of their strength. Which thus means that most teams probably don't have a chance of beating Spain once the World Cup rolls around; in fact, few teams probably do have a chance.
Germany are an obvious inclusion with their counterattack; France definitely deserve to be in the mix as shown throughout this one. Italy—now led by Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaarawy—could also qualify for teams that have the counterattacking talent needed to beat Spain.
Yet outside of that, it's getting a little bare.
It will be fascinating to see over the next 12 months whether nations can show in these World Cup qualifiers that they have what it takes to beat Spain. Because, at the moment, the list of potential contenders doesn't look that long at all.
What did you make of Spain's 1-0 win over France this week?
Comment below or hit me up on Twitter: Follow @dantalintyre
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