Deep defences still a struggle for Spain: What we learned from Tuesday's World Cup qualifiers

La Roja toiled to break down a stubborn Georgian backline, Italy made hard work of defeating Malta, while Benzema & Giroud proved they could start together in a new-look formation
Europe's big guns have kicked off their respective World Cup qualifying campaigns and have generally avoided slip-ups, as they bid to reach the finals in Rio in 2014.

Tuesday's matches were revealing both for positive and negative reasons, however; while some national coaches have issues to contend with, others will have reasons to be cheerful as international football is put to bed until next month.

Deep defences still a struggle for Spain

Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer

There are no question marks about their hunger or will to win, but ever since Spain lost to Switzerland in the opening game of the 2010 World Cup, La Roja look suspect against defensive-minded opposition.

Whereas the country's two top teams - Real Madrid and Barcelona - appear to be able to tear through less ambitious outfits at will, Spain still struggle against such sides and it took 85 minutes for Vicente del Bosque's men to break the deadlock on Tuesday.

In the end, the champions chalked up an all-important win in Group I, but with tricky trips to Finland, France and Belarus still to come, they may need to be more clinical against teams who pack the defence.

Hard work, but job done for Italy

Kris Voakes | Italian Football Writer

It may still have been a performance more reminiscent of the draw in Bulgaria on Friday, than the victory over Germany in June's Euro 2012 semi-final, but Italy eventually grabbed the three points they needed from their clash with Malta in Modena.

Again, the Azzurri were below-par, finding it difficult to break down a hard-working Malta side, but they did just about enough in the end. As they have often proven in the past, the Italians have a knack of digging deep and earning the result no matter how they do it when it comes to qualifying for major tournaments, and they delivered once more.

The longer the game stayed at 1-0, the more some may have worried, but in all truth the Azzurri were never in any danger of not winning. It was also somewhat ironic that on the day Domenico Criscito was cleared of any involvement in Calcioscommesse, his replacement Federico Peluso headed the late clincher.

Full-back flaws mar German triumph

Enis Koylu | German Football Expert

It may have seemed like a logical decision for Joachim Low to switch Philipp Lahm to right-back given his captain's improved performances there at club level and Jerome Boateng's erratic form, but Marcel Schmelzer illustrated how Germany's problems on either side of defence will not disappear over night.

The Dortmund man is a consistent performer in the Bundesliga, but continues to look completely out of place on the international stage, and one of die Nationalmannschaft's weakest areas shows no sign of improvement in the near future.

It is perhaps ironic that Christian Fuchs, who plays for Dortmund's local rivals Schalke, was the best full-back on show in Vienna, but lacks a nation worthy of his talents.

Benzema & Giroud can play together

Robin Bairner | French Football Expert

France have often found playing against defensive sides a real trial, but Didier Deschamps experimented with a 4-3-3 system that involved both Karim Benzema and Olivier Giroud.

Although it was not an overwhelming success, it did offer Les Bleus more attacking avenues, and even in the first-half, which finished scoreless, they were able to fashion a number of chances and create the kind of space they have often struggled to in the past.

It will not be a formation that the coach will want to use in every match, but it at least offers an interesting alternative to far more stale systems that have been used in the recently.

Oranje's Eredivisie stars shine

Stefan Coerts | Dutch Football Expert

Louis van Gaal’s young team was delivered a huge blow only minutes before kick-off when Arjen Robben was ruled out due to injury.

Nevertheless, Oranje cruised to a comfortable 4-1 away win, largely down to the presence of their domestic-based players. PSV attacker Jeremain Lens, who took Robben’s place, netted twice and set up one more. Luciano Narsingh and Bruno Martins Indi also shone in Budapest as well.

Netherlands might no longer be among the world’s top teams at this point, but they still have plenty of potential.