A second half strike from Pedro was enough to give Spain a 1-0 win over 10-man France in Paris this evening.
Vicente del Bosque welcomed back Xavi Hernandez and Xabi Alonso to the starting XI after recovering from injury, whilst Nacho Monreal was drafted in following Jordi Alba’s hamstring pull against Finland last Friday. Les Bleus meanwhile gave starts to Real Madrid pair Karim Benzema and Raphael Varane.
And it was the home team who started the brighter of the two sides. Mathieu Valbuena and Blaise Matuidi both had early efforts on goal – but both failed to test Victor Valdes. It was La Roja though, who had the best of the early efforts. Monreal found Xavi with a low cross inside the first 10 minutes, but the Barcelona midfielder fired agonizingly over from close-range.
The visitors were having the majority of possession, but Didier Deschamps’ men certainly weren’t parking the proverbial bus. Good pressing from Paul Pogba and Yohan Cabaye in the middle of the park led to a number of counter-attacks, but Benzema unfortunately didn’t have his shooting boots on.
The more the half went on however, the more Spain started to seize control of the ball. Intricate and incisive play around the French area looked impressive, but the hosts defence was holding strong in the face of mounting pressure.
It reached boiling point however, just after the half-hour mark. Pedro rounded Hugo Lloris before being taken down inside the box, but the referee waved play on, much to the anger of the Spanish players.
Franck Ribery had a good opportunity late on for the home side, but couldn’t beat Valdes as both sides failed to break the deadlock going into half-time.
After the break it was more of the same as the Spanish probed, looking for an opening, whilst the French remained tight at the back hoping to pounce on the break.
Les Bleus’ resistance though, eventually gave way on 58 minutes. A superb run and cross from Monreal found Pedro, and the Barca forward was there to bundle home from six yards out to give Del Bosque’s men the lead.
The away side however, weren’t having it all their own way – almost immediately after the goal, Ribery broke past Gerard Pique, laid the ball off to Matuidi, only for the Paris Saint-Germain midfielder to fire his effort straight into the arms of the goalkeeper.
With just over 10 minutes remaining though, it was another combative midfielder who was creating headlines for himself. Two yellow cards within the space of 60 seconds for Paul Pogba saw the Juventus man sent off, handing his team an almost impossible task.
And so it proved as a late flurry of saves from Valdes ensured La Roja held out for a vital three points to go top of Group I.
France 0-1 Spain
Scorers: Pedro 58 (S)
France: Lloris; Jallet (Giroud 90), Varane, Koscielny, Evra; Cabaye (Menez 69), Pogba, Matuidi; Valbuena, Benzema (Sissoko 82), Ribéry
Spain: Valdés; Arbeloa, Piqué, Sergio Ramos, Monreal; Xabi Alonso, Busquets, Xavi; Iniesta (Mata 90), Pedro (Fabregas 76), Villa (Jesus Navas 60)
Sent off: Pogba 78 (F)