The pressure is firmly on the World Cup holders as they head to France on Tuesday trailing their opponents by two points at the top of their qualification group.

Having conceded a late equalizer to France in Madrid back in October, Spain failed to make the most of their dominance of the ball at home to Finland on Friday and succumbed to a shock leveler to emerge with a disappointing 1-1 draw.

A loss against France at the Stade de France would leave Spain staring down the barrel of needing a two-legged playoff to insure they don’t become the first holders since Uruguay in 1934 not to defend their crown.

But coach Vicente del Bosque is trying to stay calm and believes that a potentially more expansive style of play from France could help his side.

“We are not anxious at all," he said, according to FIFA’s website. "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 pitch and use the width. We do need to find solutions but this will be a much more open game."

In contrast, France impressed last time out as they cruised to a 3-1 home win over Georgia. Mathieu Valbuena was the star as he scored and created the other two goals, while exciting youngsters Raphael Varane and Paul Pogba impressed on their debuts for Les Bleus.

Coach Didier Deschamps is taking nothing for granted, but suggested his side would not merely be playing for a draw to remain top of the group.

“This result [Spain’s draw with Finland] changes nothing,” he said. “Spain are still the best team in the world. They were before, they are now and they will be after tomorrow's match. 

“It's true that for us, now, there are two positive results tomorrow -- the win and the draw,” he added. But a draw would not give us much of a guarantee because it would oblige us to win every match that is left.”

Deschamps has suggested that there’s no reason not to stick with Varane and Pogba against Spain, although the France coach could well bring in Yohan Cabaye to strengthen the midfield at the expense of a forward.

Normally Karim Benzema would be expected to get the start ahead of Olivier Giroud, but the Real Madrid man’s poor international form -- he has gone 929 minutes without scoring for France -- brings that into question.  

Spain will be without Barcelona full-back Jordi Alba through injury and midfielder David Silva due to suspension.


France (probable)

 G: Lloris

D; jallet, Vrane, Sakho, Evra

M: Pogba, Matuidi, Cabaye

F: Valbuena, Benzema, Ribery


Spain (probable)

G: Valdes

D; Arbeloa, Ramos, Pique, Monreal

M: Xavi, Busquets, Alonso

F: Pedro, Villa, Iniesta


Prediction: France were feeble in defeat to Spain in Euro 2012 and were also largely dominated, despite securing a draw, in October, but recent results and the influx of youthful exuberance in the squad should give the side more belief this time round.

That could also prove their downfall, however. Spain will relish having greater space to exploit if France confidently push forward. There are certainly issues with this Spanish side, notably up front, where their only proven international striker, David Villa, is shy of his clinical best. But, in a crunch match, La Roja could still come up with the goods against a French side that remains a work in progress.

France 1-2 Spain

Where to watch: The World Cup qualifier will kick-off at 4 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by ESPN2, with a live stream available on ESPN3