Sport Soccer

Thursday 22 March 2018

Del Bosque: Spain to keep calm and play on

Martin Hardy

SPAIN in crisis. Spain on the defensive. Perhaps it says as much about the modern game that coach Vicente Del Bosque has been forced into justifying the philosophy of the world and European champions.

Spain have drawn two of their four Group I World Cup qualifying games (they have won the other two) but those dropped points, most recently against Finland, gives significantly more importance to their game in France tonight.

Teemu Pukki was not expected to score a late equaliser for the Finns. Sergio Ramos was not expecting to celebrate his 100th cap (he is still only 26) without victory, especially as it was his goal that had put Spain ahead.

"We have a great team in front of us (France) but we can beat them and we have to go with this mentality," he said ahead of the game against the group leaders. "We have always remained faithful to our philosophy and style and I don't think we should change that. We shouldn't change what has served us well in the past and has helped us to win and be successful."

Spain were without Iker Casillas, Carlos Puyol, Xavi and Xabi Alonso against Finland. The two central midfielders, so vital to the way Spain play, are likely to return at the Stade de France.

"Both (Xavi and Alonso) are fine but as I have said we are not going to risk anyone and it will be the players who take the final decision," Del Bosque said. "Nobody will be forced to play if they are not at 100pc.

"Of course it worries us a bit when we have so much possession and are camped on their penalty area but cannot get through (as they were against Finland), but at the same time there is no reason to get nervous or lose patience. I don't expect the game against France to be like that. It's going to be much more open than the Finland game.

"We are not anxious at all. 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. They have players with pace and the ambition to play football and are a very good team."

France know victory would take them five points clear of Spain with only three games to go, nudging the world champions nearer to the play-offs for an opportunity to defend their title in Brazil next year.

"It was a great surprise," said Didier Deschamps, the France coach. "I saw the game and Spain deserved to win. Nevertheless this result changes nothing. Spain are still the best team in the world. They were before, they are now and they will be after tomorrow's match. To beat Spain we will have to have a perfect game, we know this."

(© Independent News Service)

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