Seven months remain in Europe’s World Cup qualifying, but defending champion Spain already finds itself in a deep hole.
Consecutive home draws with France and Finland mean that Spain will fall five points off the lead held by France if it loses to the Bleus Tuesday night at the Stade de France.
With only the winner of each of Europe’s nine groups assured of berths in the finals — and only eight of the nine second-place teams headed to playoffs — there is not a lot of margin for error, but Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque insisted winning Tuesday’s game will not come at the risk of further injuries to midfielders Xavi and Xabi Alonso, who sat out Friday’s 1-1 draw with Finland in Gijon.
“Both are fine,” said Del Bosque, “but as I have said, we are not going to risk anyone, and it will be the players who take the final decision.”
Del Bosque is confident Spain will get much more room to attack at the Stade de France than it did in Gijon.
“We are not anxious at all,” he said. “It is logical to reflect after what has happened in our last two games. Despite dominating completely, we couldn’t score more than once, so it is understandable that people will have doubts. But we mustn’t get nervous, we must stay calm, open up the field and use the width. We do need to find solutions but this will be a much more open game.”
DESCHAMPS PRAISES YOUNGSTERS. France coach Didier Deschamps hasn’t been afraid to shake things up in the Bleus’ squad.
Real Madrid center back Raphael Varane, 19, and Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba, 20, got their first starts Friday in France’s 3-1 win over Georgia, and they could keep their places in the Bleus’ starting lineup against Spain.
“Their youth brings with it enthusiasm and they play with freedom,” said Deschamps. “They played for the team. You can’t ask the same of a player on his debut as from someone with 50 or 80 caps but I had no fears for them. The quality they’d shown for their clubs or in the training sessions shone through in a competitive environment.”