Olivier Giroud headed home a last gasp equalizer to grab a potentially vital point for France after a 1-1 draw with Spain in World Cup qualifying.
Spain had taken a deserved first-half lead in Madrid’s Vicente Calderon through Sergio Ramos and should have been further ahead but for a Cesc Fabregas penalty being saved by Hugo Lloris. The match opened up in the second-half, though, and France finally took advantage of some less than impressive Spanish defending with an injury-time leveler.
It was a match that took time to get going as Spain dictated proceedings with their controlled possession, yet without penetrating the French back line. The home side was forced into an early change too with David Silva suffering an injury that forced him off, to be replaced by Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla.
While Spain were not yet carving out the opportunities, there was always the feeling that France’s defense was ripe for being breached.
It was a Xavi set-piece that provided the breakthrough after 25 minutes. Sergio Ramos was still in a state of disbelief at having put a free header against the post from eight yards out when the ball came back to him as Hugo Lloris parried a cross to his feet. At the second time of asking, the Real Madrid defender made no mistake side-footing high into the net.
Despite Spain’s dominance, France had a couple of moments to provide them with encouragement. First Karim Benzema managed to find space in-between defenders and fired in a crisp low left-footed shot from the edge of box that Iker Casillas did well to dive and turn away.
France were perhaps unfortunate not to have equalized six minutes before the break. Yohan Cabaye’s free-kick to the far post was headed back across goal by Benzema and Jeremy Menez was adjudged to have been offside as he nodded into the back of the net from barely a yard out. Replays suggested that the call was at best questionable.
Just a few minutes later it was France’s turn to breathe a heavy sigh of relief. Jordi Alba knocked the ball through to Pedro down the left of the box who got a clear touch to the ball before Laurent Koscielny came across and clattered the Barcelona forward to the floor. It was a poorly judged challenge and gave the referee a simple decision to point to the spot.
Cesc Fabregas was the man handed the responsibility but, although he struck the penalty cleanly, it was at the perfect height for Lloris who guessed correctly in going to his right and parried the ball away.
Spain were again ruing their failure to add to their lead moments before the break. After a delightful pass through by Xavi, Pedro controlled and fired in a shot from 12 yards that was well blocked by Lloris before the Tottenham keeper recovered well to turn away Fabregas’ effort from the rebound.
The open feel toward the end of the first half was only exacerbated into the second as both sides went end-to-end on dangerous breakaways. While Spain looked a threat throughout it was France who created the clearer opportunities. Spain’s already weakened defense was exposed time and again down the right side, particularly after Juanfran had replaced Alvaro Arbeloa.
Ribery and Benzema were the chief tormentors consistently finding gaps in behind the Spanish back line.
One of the clearest openings came as Ribery’s cross had to be turned away in desperate fashion by Jordi Alba to prevent it falling to Benzema.
It was then time for Benzema to play provider. Peeling off to the left, Benzema first tried to find Menez with a cross that just evaded the inrushing Paris Saint-Germain forward.
In the 73rd minute France created an even better opening as they continued to threaten an equalizer. Benzema this time cut back onto his right foot and chipped the ball to substitute Moussa Sissooko who side-footed his volley over when unmarked at the far post.
It looked like all of France’s positive second-half world would count for nothing, before substitute Giroud popped up with a leveler in the final embers of injury time. Juanfran gave the ball away up the pitch and France broke at pace with Sissoko finding Ribery once again in the space vacated by the Atletico Madrid defender. Ribery chipped the ball back right on the head of Giroud, who simply directed the ball into the far corner past an unmoved Casillas.
The number of chances created meant it would be hard to question France’s right for a potentially valuable point, while Spain will be left frustrated at the carelessness that cost them dear.