PARIS, March 4 – Spain confirmed their position among the World Cup favourites with a dominant 2-0 victory over France in their friendly match at the Stade de France here on Wednesday.The European champions prevailed through first-half goals from David Villa and Sergio Ramos, inflicting upon their hosts a first defeat in 13 home games.
Worse for France was their powerlessness in the face of Spain’s masterful control of possession and the home fans made their feelings known at regular intervals by imploring under-fire coach Raymond Domenech to resign.
The enigmatic 58-year-old has seen his popularity plummet since leading France to the 2006 World Cup final and the defeat will increase calls for him to step down before this summer’s finals in South Africa.
Key Spanish dangermen Xavi and Fernando Torres did not even make an appearance until half-time, but although the scoreline remained the same until the end, the damage had already been done.
"Losing makes nobody happy but Spain confirmed tonight that they are big favourites for the World Cup," said Domenech.
"We lost thanks to two mistakes, two pieces of poor positioning after we gave the ball away in midfield. To beat Spain you have to be exceptional. We weren’t tonight, but we have three months to prepare for the World Cup."
Thierry Henry, representing his country for the first time since his infamous handball in the play-off victory over Ireland in November, was whistled when he left the field in the second half, while the French fans took to airing their frustrations by cheering every completed Spanish pass.
Florent Malouda headed against the post from fellow substitute Djibril Cisse’s right-wing cross in the 80th minute and it was to prove the closest the hosts came to a breakthrough.
Sevilla winger Jesus Navas almost made it 3-0 in injury time but his shot across goal from the inside-right channel flashed narrowly wide.
"There was a bit of everything, good and not so good," said Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque.
"We are demanding, we always want to play better."
France had made an industrious start, with Franck Ribery a persistently menacing presence on the right of midfield.
The hosts, though, were playing with an untested centre-back pairing of debutant Michael Ciani and Julien Escude, and cracks quickly appeared.
Sergio Busquets gave the home side a warning in the 19th minute when he met a corner unmarked and flashed a header narrowly wide.
Two minutes later Spain went ahead, after David Silva dummied Andres Iniesta’s through-ball, flummoxing Escude and allowing Villa to stroll through and place the ball past Hugo Lloris.
The goal settled the visitors and they were content to sit deep behind the ball, inviting pressure from the French and looking to break forward on the counter-attack.
The crucial second goal arrived in first-half injury time.
Ramos cut infield from the right and let fly with his left foot, the ball flicking off Escude’s outstretched boot and leaving Lloris helpless.
The result leaves Domenech similarly exposed.