Paris, March 27 (IANS) A second half goal from Pedro Rodriguez gave Spain a 1-0 win here and put their campaign to qualify directly for the 2014 World Cup finals back on track.
Spain went to Paris knowing defeat to France would leave them five points behind their rivals, who had drawn in Madrid, and almost certainly needing a playoff to book their place to defend their world title in Brazil next year.
Spain kicked off Tuesday knowing anything other than a win would leave direct classification for the 2014 finals out of their control and Vicente del Bosque’s side created the first real chance in the game when Nacho Montreal pulled the ball back for Xavi Hernandez to fire over.
The pitch in the Stade de France was not in the best shape after recent poor weather but Spain took control and began to effect their traditional passing game but struggled to find space against a well organised France that looked to play on the break and which could have taken the lead had Karim Benzema not fired over the bar when well placed.
In a game of few chances the Spaniards claimed a penalty when striker Pedro Rodriguez went down under a challenge from France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris only for Hungarian referee Victor Kassai to wave play on. TV replays showed the referee had made a good call as Pedro dived before the goalkeeper made contact.
Xabi Alonso was helping Spain control the ball but the Spanish needed a good save from Victor Valdes to deny Frank Ribery after the French forward found himself through on goal after a bad mistake from Gerard Pique. Although Xavi Hernandez was looking off the pace, unsurprising given his recent hamstring problems, Del Bosque resisted the temptation to make halftime changes.
Andres Iniesta produced a good save from Lloris before Pedro put Spain ahead 13 minutes into the second half. Nacho Montreal did brilliantly down the left and Pedro met his cross from the left with the fortune that his shot hit Lloris in the face before bouncing just behind the goal-line.
The goal changed the game as the Spanish could now afford to keep possession given that they had the advantage and all of the emphasis was on the French to not only win back the ball but also to score.
Meanwhile, Jesus Navas replaced David Villa with the aim of injecting pace into the Spanish counter-attack while France’s only response was a Benzema shot easily saved by Valdes and the French were reduced to 10 men with 12 minutes left when the impressive Paul Pogba was sent off for two bad fouls in just two minutes against Alonso and Xavi Hernandez.
Valdes pulled off another fine save with five minutes left to parry a header from Mathieu Valbuena following a free-kick on the edge of the Spain area and that was enough, even though Sergio Busquets wasted a chance to double Spain’s lead in the closing moments.