Spain regain top spot with win over France

Spain's Pedro struck a second-half goal to earn a deserved 1-0 away win over France that put them back on top of World Cup qualifying Group I as the hosts finished with 10 men after a pulsating match on Tuesday.

Pedro, who has scored 10 goals in his last six starts, scrambled home Nacho Monreal's cross just before the hour to put the world champions in control as France lost Paul Pogba who was dismissed for a second yellow card in the 78th minute.

Spain, who were overtaken at the top by France last Friday following a 1-1 home draw against Finland, now have 11 points from five games and lead Les Bleus by one point with three matches left in the race to reach next year's finals in Brazil.

Spain, unbeaten in their last 50 World Cup qualifiers dating back to March 1993, restored the fans' faith in their tactics after their surprise stumble against unfancied Finland.

"This is a very important three points. It helps support the conviction we have in our ideas," Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque told Spanish television. "Everyone has doubts at times.

"When they went down to ten men in thoery it should have been easier for us, but this is when we perhaps had the most problems. The team played like men today."

France coach Dider Deschamps told a news conference: "Possession was on Spain's side but it's not a surprise. The problem is we got more chances than them but did not convert them. In the first half we defended well but were a bit shy.

"Let's not forget the team we were playing against. We put up a good fight. But it's disappointing."


Del Bosque won the Champions League with Real Madrid at the Stade de France in 2000, two years after Deschamps lifted the World Cup as a player in the same stadium but only one of them would leave the field happy on a cold Parisian night.

Spain were without injured left-back Jordi Alba and suspended forward David Silva but midfielders Xavi and Xabi Alonso were back in the starting line-up.

France started with teenager Raphael Varane alongside Laurent Koscielny in defence with 20-year-old Paul Pogba in front of the back four as Deschamps renewed his faith in Karim Benzema who has failed to score in his last 12 internationals.

The game got off to a frantic start with Mathieu Valbuena attempting a 20-metre bicycle kick after only 20 seconds as France pressed high up the pitch.

Spain came close to opening the scoring with their first chance in the fifth minute when Xavi missed an open goal after being set up by Monreal, who had been released by Andres Iniesta on the left side of the penalty area.

Spain were caught on the break in the 15th minute as Valbuena found Christophe Jallet on the right flank, only for Benzema to fire over the bar from the left-back's pass.

The visitors struggled to create as mnay chances as usual although Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets had a grip on midfield.

In the 31st minute, France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris appeared to bring down Pedro in the box but referee Viktor Kassai waved play on and Xavi was booked for protesting.


France had a great opportunity before the break when Franck Ribery collected a pass from Valbuena but a poor second touch meant his low shot was blocked by Spain keeper Victor Valdes.

Benzema skied another shot early in the second half, prompting some of the crowd to call for Olivier Giroud.

Lloris tipped Andres Iniesta's snap shot over the bar but there was nothing he could do when Pedro scrambled the ball into the net from Monreal's cross in the 58th minute.

Blaise Matuidi then had a great chance to equalise from Ribery's pass but the midfielder's weak low shot was easily blocked by Valdes.

Benzema, whose futile runs did little to help his team-mates, reached 1,000th minutes without a goal for France while his Real Madrid colleague Varane sent the ball wide with 15 minutes left from point-blank range in a packed goalmouth.

Pogba was sent off with 12 minutes left after picking up two yellow cards in four minutes.

Eight minutes from time, Benzema was booed off the pitch when he was replaced by Moussa Sissoko.

France, who grabbed a 1-1 draw against Spain in Madrid last October and beat Georgia 3-1 at home last Friday, next play Georgia away in September while Spain travel to Finland.

"It was a tough game but we got a narrow win," Monreal told Spanish television. "We drew with Finland in a game where they scored with their only chance.

"We knew we could not afford to lose today. We couldn't go five points behind, and we came out and played a great game."