PARIS: Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque praised his team for their “maturity” after the world champions overcame nagging doubts in the wake of recent results to beat France 1-0 at the Stade de France.
Pedro Rodriguez scored the only goal of the World Cup qualifier just before the hour mark in the French capital as Spain leapfrogged Les Bleus back to the top of Group I.
With three rounds of games remaining, Spain are now a point ahead of France again, just four days after conceding top spot when their 1-1 home draw with Finland was combined with France beating Georgia.
Veteran coach Del Bosque was delighted with the performance, and also warned France that they may just have lost the chance to progress automatically to the finals.
“The important thing for us was to win the three points but the display of maturity by the players was also outstanding,” he said.
“The last few days have been quite difficult for us and the prospect of falling five points behind France was very bad for the Spanish national team, so the players showed great maturity in every respect.
“We could have won by a greater margin but instead we had to suffer and keep working until the very end,” he added when asked if Spain should have won more comfortably after enjoying more than 75 percent of the possession.
With only games against the group’s lesser lights, Finland, Georgia and Belarus, remaining, Spain are in a fine position to go on and finish top of the table, and Del Bosque admitted that Tuesday’s result could prove decisive come the end of the campaign.
“There are still three games to go in which we and France can both still slip up,” he acknowledged.
“There is still time for anything to happen, but it is clear that France were in a very advantageous position at the start of the day.”
Del Bosque was also pleased to see his team keep faith with their style despite the criticism which they have received in recent days since struggling against Finland.
Against a much more attack-minded France team, this was a very different game.
The hosts may have seen little of the ball, but they had chances, with Franck Ribery squandering their clearest opening when denied by Spain ‘keeper Victor Valdes late in the first half with the scores still level.
“Spain dominated possession but that is not a surprise,” said the France coach.
“In terms of chances we had more than them and that is where we came up short. We defended well in the first half but were a little too timid pushing forward.
“It is hard to fight against the experience they have. You really need to take your chances and get some breaks.
“They have twice as many caps between them as we do and have won the last three major titles. The control and technical quality was theirs and it was not always easy to put into practice what we wanted to do.”
After falling behind, France’s chances of getting back on level terms were killed off when young midfielder Paul Pogba was sent off for two bookings in quick succession inside the final quarter of an hour.
Deschamps defended his decision to start the young Juventus midfielder, who was winning just his second cap, and insisted his dismissal was harsh.
“I have no regrets putting him in the team,” he said. “The two yellow cards were a little harsh and when he was on the pitch he showed his potential.
“It was not a gamble playing him or Raphael (Varane). I know what they can do. They will learn and grow as players from games like these.”
Deschamps also defended Karim Benzema, the striker who once again failed to end his long scoring drought at international level.
“There has been a lot of criticism of him, unfortunately. That is the way it is, but all the talk helps nobody. Even if he didn’t score he did a lot of good things.”
Spain and France do not return to qualifying action until September, when the world champions travel to Finland while the French go to Georgia.