PARIS, France, March 25 – The prospect of the reigning world champions missing next year’s World Cup finals in Brazil will become a very real one if stumbling Spain suffer another slip-up in France on Tuesday evening.
Vicente Del Bosque’s side have not lost a competitive match since the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, but two consecutive home draws have seen them fall behind France in this qualifying campaign.
After being held 1-1 by France in Madrid in October, La Roja allowed Finland to escape with a draw by the same score in Gijon on Friday and are now two points adrift of the French at the top of Group I.
“The result is disastrous,” admitted David Villa after Spain failed to add to Sergio Ramos’ opener against the group’s bottom nation despite monopolising possession and camping in the opposition half, and Finland hit back to equalise late on.
Lose at the Stade de France and Spain will be five points behind Didier Deschamps’ side with just three matches remaining, all but ending their chances of qualifying automatically.
“This game will be a final for both teams,” striker Alvaro Negredo told Spanish media, before adding: “We have the quality to win in any stadium in the world.”
Negredo was one of several attackers used by Del Bosque over the course of Friday’s game, but Spain just could not kill off a well-organised Finnish side.
However, France are likely to adopt a more attacking approach in front of their own demanding support in Saint-Denis, and Negredo believes that will play into Spain’s hands.
“This game will be different to the rest of the qualifying campaign,” he added. “It will be much more open, against a team that will try to create chances and will leave us spaces.
“We will try to benefit from the fact that we will be playing against quality opposition who will look to play football.”
Deschamps’ team played with great maturity in holding the European and world champions in Madrid and eased to a 3-1 victory against Georgia on Friday.
Goals from Olivier Giroud and Franck Ribery either side of a strike by the superb Mathieu Valbuena allowed Les Bleus to see off the former Soviet Republic and take full advantage of Spain’s unexpected faux pas.
“It was like the perfect evening for us,” Deschamps said of Friday night.
Sticking 11 men behind the ball might appear the most likely way of taking anything from Spain, but Deschamps insists that France will try and take the game to their visitors.
“My intentions will not change because Spain’s will certainly not change,” said the 44-year-old, who lifted the World Cup as France captain in 1998.
“They will look to monopolise possession of the ball and win the match. I don’t see myself telling my team to just defend. Spain oblige you to defend but a win would be a very good result for us, even if a draw would still be a good result.
“Our objective is to qualify for the World Cup and the best way to do that is by finishing first in the group.”
However, Deschamps ominously added: “On Tuesday we will still be up against the best team in the world.”
That means that the France coach is likely to ditch the 4-4-2 formation adopted against Georgia in favour of having an extra man in midfield as the hosts look to continue an impressive record in home qualifiers which has seen them lose just two of their last 34.
Newcastle United’s Yohan Cabaye is a contender to return to the starting line-up, while the greatly experienced Patrice Evra of Manchester United should replace Gael Clichy at left-back.
Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema may keep his place in attack despite again flattering to deceive on Friday. He has scored just three times in his last 23 games for his country.
Spain will be without the suspended David Silva as well as left-back Jordi Alba due to injury, with Arsenal’s Nacho Monreal set to replace the latter.
However, Del Bosque is expected to welcome back the influential Xabi Alonso and Xavi Hernandez in midfield.