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UEFA World Cup qualifying: France 0 Spain 1

Spain took control of World Cup qualifying Group I thanks to a 1-0 win over France in Paris on Tuesday.

Pedro scored the only goal of the game just before the hour-mark from a Nacho Monreal cross as the world champions were rewarded for a sustained spell of pressure.

France, meanwhile, finished with 10 men as Paul Pogba saw red.

For all of Spain’s dominance of possession, there had been only a few suggestions they would be able to break their hosts’ resistance before a cross-field pass from Xavi released Monreal down the left.

Having sprinted in behind the French rearguard, the Arsenal defender centred for Pedro to scramble past Hugo Lloris.

Pedro and Lloris had been at the heart of first-half controversy as the attacker went down under a challenge from the goalkeeper in the area, but no penalty was awarded despite contact being apparent.

As early as the fifth minute Spain had threatened, but Xavi inexplicably scooped over from just six yards out after being teed up by Monreal.

France otherwise had the clearest openings in the first half but the much-criticised Karim Benzema could not profit from Christophe Jallet’s energetic raid down the right, while Franck Ribery missed their best chance as he was thwarted by Victor Valdes after being released by Mathieu Valbuena.

After the break, the threat from the hosts was more muted and Lloris had to be sharp to touch over from Andres Iniesta prior to Pedro’s breakthrough, which changed the dynamic.

Blaise Matuidi had an opportunity to equalise after being set up by Ribery, but Valdes got his body firmly behind the Paris Saint-Germain man’s drive, and Raphael Varane could not quite scramble home from a corner.

Even after Pogba had been dismissed for two yellow cards in the space of a couple of minutes, France offered a threat, with Ribery blasting a shot narrowly over.

Spain would dominate possession until the end, yet aside from the occasional raid from Jesus Navas down the right they were largely toothless until Lloris denied Sergio Busquets in additional time.

It did not matter as Spain inflicted the first competitive defeat upon Didier Deschamps’ France, which means they have leapfrogged the hosts into the summit of Group I.

A one-point advantage offers Spain little insurance, but the defending world champions are now firm favourites to qualify for Brazil 2014 outright, with France facing a playoff.

Tue 26 Mar, 2013
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