Key Battles That Will Shape France's Clash with Spain

Rik Sharma@@riksharma_Featured ColumnistSeptember 3, 2014

Key Battles That Will Shape France's Clash with Spain

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    Diego Costa and Co. face France.
    Diego Costa and Co. face France.Associated Press

    For a friendly, France vs. Spain is a mouth-watering clash, and both sides are expected to put out strong line-ups.

    Spain have started the rebuilding process after a horrendous World Cup, although Vicente Del Bosque denies there will be a dramatic shift in his squad.

    He did thank retired legends Xabi Alonso and Xavi Hernandez for what they had offered La Roja. Per Mundo Deportivo (via Football Espana), he said, when asked if he was starting a "revolution":

    No, I think not. There are eight from the World Cup left out for various reasons and the national team is not closed for anyone. Not even for the eight who aren’t here, except for the two who have expressed their decision not to come, Xabi Alonso and Xavi Hernandez, to whom we owe respect for all they gave.

    They were two key players from the main group that had those successes and we try to mitigate their absence as much as possible. Football requires you to have new dreams because if you are nostalgic of the pass you will find progress difficult.

    Meanwhile, France boss Didier Deschamps also confirmed that he would not be experimenting much, per the Agence France-Presse (via Yahoo Sports): "We have two matches very close together but the team which starts on Thursday will be close to that which started against Germany."

    That means we can expect several high-profile clashes when Spain take on France on Thursday night. Here, we anticipate the key battles on the pitch.

    Possible sides

    France: Lloris, Debuchy, Sakho, Varane, Evra, Matuidi, Pogba, Cabaye, Valbuena, Benzema, Griezmann.

    Spain: Casillas, Azpilicueta, Ramos, Albiol, Alba, Busquets, Koke, Fabregas, Pedro, Costa, Silva.

Karim Benzema vs. Sergio Ramos

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    Benzema and Ramos at Real Madrid.
    Benzema and Ramos at Real Madrid.Alberto Di Lolli/Associated Press

    Gerard Pique was left out of this squad after a disastrous World Cup, but his partner, Sergio Ramos, remains.

    He will be up against his Real Madrid club-mate Karim Benzema, France's main striker.

    The pair will know each other's games inside out, which is sure to make for an intriguing battle.

    Benzema still has plenty to prove in a France shirt, and the likes of Loic Remy will be anxious for a chance to take his place.

    The forward isn't always the most clinical, but he is smart, and you wouldn't bet against him winning the individual tussle with Ramos. 

Antoine Griezmann vs. Cesar Azpilicueta

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    Antoine Griezmann impressed at the World Cup.
    Antoine Griezmann impressed at the World Cup.Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

    Antoine Griezmann broke into the France team recently and impressed at the World Cup.

    He is likely to be facing Chelsea full-back Cesar Azpilicueta.

    These two players have interesting career histories, with the Frenchman spending most of his playing days in Spain, while the Spaniard plied his trade in France.

    They are evenly matched: both fast, smart and aware.

    If Azpilicueta is to seal his place at right-back in the side ahead of Atletico Madrid's Juanfran, he needs to be winning wars against players with the quality of Griezmann.

Diego Costa vs. Mamadou Sakho

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    Watch out, Costa's about.
    Watch out, Costa's about.Jon Super/Associated Press

    This is a Premier League battle. The jury is out on Liverpool's French defender, but Diego Costa is widely acknowledged to be one of the finest strikers around.

    He's started his career at Chelsea like a wrecking ball and is now hoping to bring that form to the Spain side.

    Costa had a poor World Cup, but he was injured before it and never seemed fully fit.

    Furthermore, a player of his profile doesn't seem the best fit for a possession-based style, which Spain are the masters of.

    However, his quality is undoubted, and he should be able to mould his game to fit. The game against France is a good place to start. 

Koke vs. Paul Pogba

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    Juve's Paul Pogba is someone to look out for.
    Juve's Paul Pogba is someone to look out for.Felice Calabro'/Associated Press

    This is a mouth-watering midfield clash, featuring two players who could be the stars of their respective teams' midfields for a decade to come.

    Koke is the heir to Barcelona legend Xavi Hernandez, while Paul Pogba is already established as a key part of France's midfield motor.

    The players have different styles but both play with intensity and neither are afraid to put themselves about.

    Both offer attacking and defensive benefits to their respective sides, and this could be the first of many clashes between them at the highest level.