For years Barcelona supporters have loyally sang the praises of Víctor Valdés, songs which finally rang true during Tuesday’s performance in Paris. Though the Barça keeper, filling in for the injured Iker Casillas, didn’t face many tests, he came up huge the two big chances France had to stay at the top of Europe’s Group I. As a result, Spain was able to get out of Stade de France with a 1-0 win and jump Les Bleus for first in the teams’ group.
It was the first time Spain had ever won a qualifier in Paris.
Valdés’s first act of heroism came when he charged off his line to cut off a chance Franck Ribery had to give France a first half lead.
While Spain’s dominance of possession allowed them to limit France’s chances, the reigning World Champions couldn’t break through for a goal of their own until the 58th minute when Pedro Rodríguez forced a ball past Hugo Lloris.
France’s best chance of the day came on a late restart along the left, with a ball drilled in by Mathieu Valbuena redirected on goal from eight yards out by a diving Patrice Evra. A reflex save from Valdés drew gasps from the crowd while keeping Spain in front.
After their wakeup call, Spain went on to bleed out the rest of the match, a task made easier after France midfielder Paul Progba, making his second appearance for Les Bleus, drew two yellow cards in a one minute span starting in the 77th minute. Reduced to 10 men, France couldn’t build on the two shots they put on Valdés.
But to read too much into that shot total would underestimate France’s threat. Despite Spain holding 75 percent of the possession, there was little to separate the two sides, the Spanish only putting three shots on Lloris while France generated strong chances for Ribery (twice), Blaise Matuidi, Evra, and Raphael Varane.
That’s not to say Spain didn’t have near misses of their own. Xavi missed a sitter in the fifth minute, and Spain should have been awarded a penalty kick when Lloris brought Pedro down midway through the first half.
But near-misses are the currency of the defeated. Victors bask in their points.
The win leaves Spain on 11 points through five games, home draws to France and Finland the only blemishes on their qualifying record. France stays on 10 points, six points up on Georgia for the group’s potential playoff spot.