(Reuters) - France will not change their approach to Tuesday’s clash against Spain even if a draw at home could eventually send the world and European champions into a tricky playoff tie for World Cup qualification.
Les Bleus, who left Euro 2012 with their tails between their legs following a comprehensive 2-0 defeat against Spain in the quarter-finals last June, have dramatically improved under new coach Didier Deschamps.
They followed a 1-1 draw in Spain in October with a 3-1 win against Georgia on Friday to take the lead in qualifying Group I with 10 points from four games after Vicente del Bosque’s side, now two points behind, were held to a 1-1 home draw by Finland.
Even if a draw would be enough to stay in front of Spain ahead of three potentially easy outings left in Georgia, Belarus and at home to Finland, France refuse to change their mindset.
“The reality is that Spain will still come to enjoy possession and to win the game,” Deschamps told reporters. “I can’t prepare for the match telling the guys ‘let’s defend, let’s defend’ even if Spain put you in such a position.”
Captain Hugo Lloris also believes his side should set their sights on nothing less than victory at the Stade de France.
“It does not change the way we’ll be going into Tuesday’s game. We know how good they are and they are able to come here to win,” the goalkeeper said.
Olivier Giroud netted the opener against Georgia but Deschamps may leave out the Arsenal man and revert to using a lone striker, keeping faith with Karim Benzema despite the forward not scoring in his last 11 France games.
Paul Pogba, who made his debut on Friday, may also drop to the bench but centre back Raphael Varane, a Real Madrid player with good knowledge of the Spanish forwards, could earn his second cap.
With left back Jordi Alba ruled out because of a hamstring injury and David Silva suspended, Spain need to make changes for Tuesday.
Del Bosque prefers continuity to revolution but needs to find some spark and a sharper cutting edge in Paris after a below-par showing against Finland.
Nacho Monreal is expected to step in at the back while the engine room of the side which won the World Cup in 2010 and Euro 2102 is likely to be restored with the return of Xavi and Xabi Alonso.
Barcelona’s influential playmaker Xavi missed Friday’s game with a niggling hamstring strain but trained with the rest of the squad on Saturday and will surely be back at the helm alongside his Real Madrid counterpart.
Xabi Alonso was an unused substitute in Gijon as he nursed a groin problem.
Turning possession into goals is Spain’s priority and the country’s all-time leading scorer David Villa, who netted on their last visit to Paris in a 2-0 friendly victory in 2010, was confident of success.
“We were going there for a win anyway and now we do so with a stronger motive,” the Barcelona striker said after the Finland game.
“Our way of playing is always the same. Even if we had beaten Finland we would have played the same in Saint-Denis. We aren’t thinking of the playoffs, or anything else beyond getting a win against France on Tuesday.”
France: Hugo Lloris; Christophe Jallet, Mamadou Sakho, Raphael Varane, Patrice Evra; Moussa Sissoko, Blaise Matuidi, Yohan Cabaye, Mathieu Valbuena, Franck Ribery; Karim Benzema
Spain: Victor Valdes; Alvaro Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Nacho Monreal; Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets, Xavi, Andres Iniesta; Cesc Fabregas, David Villa
Referee: Viktor Kassai (Hungary)
Additional reporting by Mark Elkington in Madrid; Editing by Mark Meadows