France vs. Spain: Winners and Losers from International Friendly
Loic Remy scored with his first kick of the match as France picked up a richly deserved win over Spain on Thursday.
Remy, who replaced Antoine Griezmann after 59 minutes, was the beneficiary of an exceptional Mathieu Valbuena pass. He then beat Spain goalkeeper David de Gea for the only goal of the encounter at Stade de France.
Several French players impressed during the match, and one or two from Spain as well. Meanwhile, a few will have done themselves no favours with underwhelming performances.
Here are some of the winners and losers from France’s 1-0 win.
Winner: Mathieu Valbuena, Who Was Man of the Match
Mathieu Valbuena’s return to France (he now plays his club football for Dynamo Moscow) was an impactful one, as he was generally Les Bleus’ best player in Thursday’s 1-0 win over Spain.
In his 75 minutes, the 29-year-old tortured the Spanish defense and routinely created openings for the likes of Karim Benzema and Loic Remy.
In the 73rd minute, he played a delightful reverse-pass to Remy, who drilled the ball past Spain goalkeeper De Gea for the only goal of the encounter.
Loser: Diego Costa, Who Had a Frustrating Night
Not surprisingly, Spain’s penchant for spreading the ball around the perimeter meant that Diego Costa was starved of service for much of the night against France.
At the time of his withdrawal in the 67th minute, the Chelsea striker had failed to test France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris with a single shot, and he struggled for even an inch of space opposite Raphael Varane and Mamadou Sakho.
In the end, his performance was summed up perfectly when he shoved Paul Pogba to ground out of frustration.
Winner: Paul Pogba, Who Ran Circles Around His Opponents
Paul Pogba was named Best Young Player at the 2014 World Cup. On Thursday, he picked up right where he left off in Brazil.
One of just two of France’s front six to play the full 90 minutes against Spain, the 21-year-old touched the ball 96 times and completed 89 percent of his passes.
He also made a series of surging runs that put his opponents on the back foot.
In the dying minutes of the encounter, he left his markers looking silly as he wove his way through the centre of the park with the ball confidently at his feet.
Loser: Barcelona, Who Weren’t Represented to Start the Second Half
At the beginning of the second half, Barcelona weren’t represented by a single player on the pitch.
Sergio Busquets, who had endured an abysmal first period, had been withdrawn at the break in favour of Ander Iturraspe. It wasn’t until the 68th minute and Pedro’s introduction that a Barcelona player was once again involved for La Roja.
Xavi Hernandez’s international retirement, coupled with Andres Iniesta’s injury, left Spain without two of their more iconic players from recent times—both, incidentally, Barcelona players.
Winner: Koke, Who Was Spain’s Best Player
Spain manager Vicente del Bosque served notice on Thursday that the future of his midfield will revolve around Koke.
The 22-year-old was La Roja’s only non-defender (or goalkeeper) to play the full 90 minutes in the 1-0 defeat to France. Overall, his performance was an eye-catching one.
No one on the pitch touched the ball more often than the Atletico Madrid midfielder, who also completed 91 percent of his passes and threw himself into defensive duties without picking up a booking.
Loser: Iker Casillas, Who Watched from the Bench
Could David de Gea be Spain’s incoming No. 1 goalkeeper?
The 23-year-old started his country’s international friendly against France on Thursday and made four saves despite the eventual defeat.
Twice he denied Karim Benzema, and his stop on the France striker late in the second half kept his side in with a shout.
Watching all of this was Iker Casillas, who could well face a battle for minutes between the sticks during Spain’s Euro 2016 qualification campaign.