Paris: France plan to attack Spain in their World Cup qualifier on Tuesday even though a draw at home would be enough to keep them in the ascendancy with three qualifiers left to play. A draw will maintain the hosts' two-point lead at the top of Group I and keep the pressure on the Spanish, who slipped to a surprise 1-1 home draw with Finland when France beat visiting Georgia 3-1 on Friday.
"We won't play for a draw, but if finishes as a draw we'll take that," France coach Didier Deschamps said Monday. "I always prepare my team for a win. You must show your strengths." France's attacks are likely to come on the break against a team renowned for their masterful ability to keep possession for long spells and batter opponents into submission. "I don't think there's any point fighting for possession of the ball. But when we get it we'll have to use it well and force them to defend," Deschamps said. "Respecting them doesn't mean having fear."
The role of France winger Franck Ribery could be crucial against a defense which has failed to defend a 1-0 lead in their past two home games, including a 1-1 draw against France in October when Ribery set up Olivier Giroud's last-gasp equalizer. With Spain right back Alvaro Arbeloa caught out of position for Finland's equalizer - and given that the last two goals Spain have conceded have stemmed from rapid attacks down that flank - Deschamps will be looking to exploit Ribery's pace and skill.
"Franck is an important player for us," Deschamps said. "Of course we have a player who can make the difference on the left."
The match sold out weeks ago and the notoriously difficult Stade de France crowd will be crucial as France seek to open up a five-point lead in qualifying. The 80,000 crowd often get on the players' backs, like when they roundly jeered striker Karim Benzema after he missed several chances against Georgia. "It will be a passionate game to experience and everyone will want to contribute," France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris said. "We expect to suffer but we know we can cause them problems."
Spain will edge closer to a playoff place if they fail to win. When they won their third straight major title at last year's European Championship, such a scenario seemed totally inconceivable. "We will stick to our way of playing," Spain defender Sergio Ramos said Monday through an interpreter. "We're not going to change now."
Following a run of 24 straight wins in qualifying games dating back to 2007, a mini-slump of two consecutive draws has led to early whispers that their dominant grip on world football may finally be loosening. "We have a lot of faith in our ability," Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said.
France even dominated Spain in the second half last October. But Deschamps thinks the draw against Finland was more to do with poor finishing than how the visitors played - even though Spain again surrendered an equalizer by defending lazily. "Spain will come here with the same intentions they had before the Finland game," Deschamps said. "Whether they're playing at home or away they try and control the game."
There are signs of tension in Spain's camp, however. The way they conceded the equalizer to Finland led to a heated row between Real Madrid's Arbeloa and Barcelona center back Gerard Pique as club tensions resurfaced. Pique reproached Arbeloa for allowing a cross from the left that Teemu Pukki scored from. Arbeloa shouted back at Pique, who then told him to shut up.
While Spain need to get their composure back, France continue to support Benzema, who has not scored in his 11 games for France and managed only three in his past 23 internationals. "Doubting Benzema's quality is folly. Whether it's for Real Madrid or France he's an exceptional player," said Ramos, a club team-mate. "I will have to concentrate all the time because if you forget him for one second it's a goal."