European Powers Face Off In Qualifier

Picture: AFP/
Spain needs to beat France to leap to the top of Group I. Image courtesy of AFP/
There’s no doubt Spain has been the dominant force in world football over the past five years. The trophy cabinet now has two European Championships and the big one, the 2010 World Cup, sitting inside it. Add to that Barcelona winning three of the last seven editions of the UEFA Champions League, and you would think it’s a fait accompli that La Roja will qualify for the 2014 World Cup.

Not all seems right with Vincent del Bosque’s side, though. Lowly Finland managed to grab a late equaliser in the 1-1 draw with Spain last week and that result puts them two points behind France in the race for the automatic qualifying position in Group I. The result was in stark contrast to the latter’s 3-1 victory over Georgia. Bayern Munich winger Franck Ribery was dominant, and the scoreline could have been far greater if Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema hadn’t wasted a couple of clear-cut opportunities.

France stole a point from the teams’ clash in October last year when Olivier Giroud scored in the 94th minute to level the scores at 1-1. The result was even sweeter for the visitors as Spain had dumped them out of the 2012 Euros with a 2-0 quarter-final defeat.

It was a slightly inexperience Spanish side that drew with the Finns, but the Red Fury could welcome back influential midfielders Xavi Hernandez and Xabi Alonso on Wednesday morning (AEDT). Iker Casillas isn’t in the squad, so Victor Valdes will remain in goal, while defender Jordi Alba has been ruled out after picking up a leg injury in the Finland draw. David Silva will miss the match due to suspension.

France has been clinical in qualifying so far. In addition to the draw with Spain and win over Georgia, Les Blues also have a 3-1 victory over Belarus and a 1-0 away triumph over Finland to their credit. To collect the three points, they’ll have to break Spain’s amazing run of not having lost a competitive match since the opening game of the 2010 World Cup.

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