Pedro's scrambled finish was the difference between the sides
Spain’s narrow 1-0 victory over France at the Stade de France on Tuesday was a performance worthy of champions. Vicente del Bosque’s side were not outstanding, yet they bossed proceedings. They created few clear chances, yet they dominated Les Bleus.
An opportunist finish from Barcelona attacker Pedro decided the contest, but Didier Deschamps’ side had their own chances to win the match.
Three points moves the Spaniards back to the top of Group I and puts them in pole position to now qualify for Brazil automatically. A draw for France would have been enough to maintain their advantage, but now they must face up to the reality of playoffs to reach the finals.
The win is a blow to Deschamps’ side who have progressed of late and demonstrated their considerable depth in talent by adding young talents Raphael Varane and Paul Pogba to the senior set-up.
However, the defeat teaches the team some valuable lessons.
Here are six things we learned.
Pogba's inexperience showed as he saw red
Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane and Juventus’ Paul Pogba looked mature, composed and thoroughly at ease when making their international debuts against Georgia five days before. Although neither looked out of their depth against the reigning World and European champions, Pogba in particular showed a lack of experience with his two quick-fire yellow cards.
Varane once again looked largely impressive even if he did have one or two lapses that are completely understandable from one so young. Pogba, although far from disappointing, showed that youth must be put of the backburner to a degree if Deschamps wants to makes sure that France reaches Brazil.
The pair have proved themselves in these past two matches and can justify being regular members of future international squads, but their development also needs to be tempered somewhat.
Playing against Georgia is one thing, but playing against Spain is another. The experience will ultimately benefit both players, particularly Pogba as Varane is used to playing against a number of the Spanish stars in La Liga. However, Deschamps should not assume that both can take on this regular responsibility immediately.
The red card did not cost France the result on its own, but there still needs to be some sort of easing in process to avoid players being thrown in at the deep end after a positive performance against a side like Georgia.
Pogba’s red card was a sour note on an otherwise encouraging night of progress from the two youngsters.
Ribery missed a golden first half opportunity
Spain may have bossed possession at the Stade de France, but the hosts had the chances to win the game.
Aside from a gilt-edged Xavi chance early on, Vicente del Bosque’s side scored from a scrappy Pedro finish, their only other real clear-cut chance in 90 minutes despite 73 percent possession. France created more chances in the match, even if they were second best for the majority of it.
It might sound obvious, but what France and any other side that is faced with the challenge of beating them need to do is take the chances that come their way.
No matter how talented La Furia Roja are all across the pitch, football is football, and both sides will invariably create chances. France on this occasion needed to be more clinical.
Franck Ribery raced through in the first half, clear on goal, but wasted his chance. Glorious opportunities like that only come once a match, if that, but Les Bleus had a number of half chances too that they also failed to take.
Teams with an efficient strike force can expect to score goals against Spain, particularly when utilizing the flanks, if they keep their composure.
There was no recreation of Giroud's late equaliser in Madrid
It was something of a surprise, given that Deschamps elected to start with the misfiring Karim Benzema, that he only gave Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud a fleeting run-out in injury time at the end of the match.
Real Madrid striker Benzema, who has been out of sorts since the European Championships, clearly doesn't look confident, yet Deschamps continues to select him for Les Bleus.
Deschamps needs to embrace the possibility of Giroud starting as striker in place of, if not alongside, Benzema and potentially moving the former Lyon man into a role where he can pick the ball up from deep.
The problem with that is that now Mathieu Valbuena occupies that area and was once again in supreme form against Spain. Without Giroud though, France lacks a focal point up front.
Spain posed little threat apart from Pedro's strike
They are not the only ones though, Spain also looked surprisingly lightweight up front and laid bare their need for another goal-scoring threat to go alongside or place in place of David Villa.
On this evidence, they appear to be lacking a predator in the mould of the former Fernando Torres that we saw for Spain, not the player completely devoid of confidence that now struggles to make the international squad.
The Spaniards’ brilliant passing game kept France at bay for large periods of the game, yet for all of their pressure, Spain didn’t turn that dominance into goals.
Without an alternative outlet to Villa, del Bosque is relying on the impact made by fast substitutes such as Jesus Navas and Juan Mata.
France were punished for their weakness on the flanks by Pedro's finish
France looked easy to get at on the flanks on Tuesday night, especially on the right with Christophe Jallet struggling to deal with the dual threats of Andres Iniesta and Ignacio Monreal.
It is disappointing considering that they were up against Alvaro Arbeloa and Monreal that he and left-back Patrice Evra didn’t get more joy going forward, particularly given Arbeloa’s static pace and Monreal not being a regular starter.
Ribery and Valbuena were dangerous and probed well out wide, but Jallet’s overlapping needs to be more consistent, and Evra continues to confound internationally when he looks so good domestically.
Del Bosque faces a challenge should his side now make it to Brazil
They may have won a very important qualifier against a direct rival that is a big step towards qualifying for Brazil 2014, but it was hardly the most convincing Spanish showing.
The midfield dominated as always, but showed a distinct lack of link-up with the forward line, and the defence looked susceptible to the pace and trickery of Ribery and Valbuena all evening.
Spain may have a seemingly endless supply of individual talent, but the side is showing signs of age with Xavi in particular looking like a recurring series of injuries are starting to take their toll.
They seem like a side going through the motions, and while that cruise control is of very high calibre, del Bosque has a tough task ahead to deliver a fourth consecutive piece of silverware.