Spain secured a vital three points to move ahead of France as well as the top of their World Cup qualifying group with a 1-0 win at the Stade de France on Tuesday.
Pedro grabbed the decisive goal from close range in the second half against a France side that ended with 10 men after Paul Pogba was sent off for two yellow cards. The World Cup holders came into the match under plenty of pressure having drawn 1-1 with Finland on Friday after only coming away with the same result when they met France in Madrid last October.
France certainly had chances to cause Spain more anxiety, but Spain’s dominance in possession this time paid dividends. The result means that Spain are now strong favorites to progress automatically to Brazil with three games remaining, while France may have to settle for a playoff spot.
With Spain probing from the off, it was they that created the best of the early openings. Xavi should have done better than side-foot over the bar after Nacho Monreal’s fine pull-back from the left before the Barcelona midfielder later shot inches wide from 20 yards.
Controversy arrived when Pedro went down under challenge from France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris in the box but the referee waved play on. Certainly there was contact, with the only possible reason not to give a penalty being that Pedro already appeared to be on the way down.
The best chance of the opening half, though, fell the way of France. From Mathieu Valbuena’s excellent long cross-field pass, Franck Ribery was able to cut in by Gerard Pique, but he couldn’t provide the finish as Victor Valdes came out to make a crucial block.
Spain continued to press forward at the start of the second half and they again went close when Andres Iniesta poked a shot over the bar when under pressure following a Xabi Alonso pass.
In the 58th minute, Spain got the breakthrough. Monreal, in for the injured Jordi Alba, beat Christophe Jallet down the left and struck the ball across the six-yard box where Pedro arrived ahead of Patrice Evra to bundle the ball past Lloris.
France, though, continued to create chances. The best opportunity for an equalizer fell the way of young Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane, but he was unable to turn the ball in at the far post following a corner.
To their credit, even after Pogba had been dismissed on only his second appearance for France following a late tackle on Xavi, France still caused problems but Ribery fired the last effort of note just past the post.