Sport Soccer

Monday 19 March 2018

Pedro pounces in Paris to put Spain in control

European Round Up

Pedro Rodriguez bundled home the winner as Spain beat France 1-0 to reclaim first place in Group I.

Spain had drawn their past two matches to fall two points behind the French, but Pedro settled a fiercely contested match in the 58th minute after being left unmarked to meet Ignacio Monreal's cross from the left.

France midfielder Paul Pogba was sent off in the 78th minute after collecting a second yellow card for going in late on Xavi Hernandez.

Pogba sarcastically applauded the referee, but coach Didier Deschamps was not amused and blanked Pogba as he walked past.

Striker Karim Benzema had a poor game and was jeered by the crowd when he was substituted as his barren spell for France reached 12 games.

Xavi should have put Spain ahead in the fifth minute when he blazed wide with the goal wide open.

Spain then enjoyed a long spell of possession as France soaked up the pressure, before hitting back as Christophe Jallet sped down the right flank and squared the ball to Benzema on the edge of the area. But he was quickly closed down and shot over.

The Spanish jumped up in outrage in the 31st minute when Pedro went to ground under a challenge from goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, but referee Viktor Kassai waved away the claims.

France's best chance of the first half fell to winger Franck Ribery but his touch was too heavy and he was running out of space by the time he reached the penalty area and 'keeper Victor Valdes smothered his shot.

The Spanish took time to get back into gear in the second half, but Pedro broke the deadlock by bundling the ball in past Lloris from close range after ghosting in unmarked.

Lloris clawed at the ball, but it was way over the line before he scooped it out.

France broke straight up the field and Ribery shook off his marker brilliantly before presenting Matuidi with a great chance, but his lame shot was too easy for Valdes. But it was Ribery who remained France's biggest threat and he went close with another drive before Patrice Evra forced Valdes into a point-blank save as France pushed in vain for an equaliser.

Meanwhile, Petr Cech marked his 100th cap by keeping a clean sheet and Matej Vydra scored twice as the Czech Republic coasted to a 3-0 victory over Armenia in Group B.

Mario Balotelli continued to show Manchester City what they are missing by scoring both goals in Italy's 2-0 win in Malta, while Robin van Persie scored twice against Romania as the Netherlands continued their 100pc winning record in Group D.

In Group F, Portugal got themselves back into the qualification picture with a hard-fought 2-0 victory in Azerbaijan in to stay level on points with Israel and one behind Russia who have two games in hand over both chasers.

Irish Independent

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