A vastly inexperienced group heroically achieved what their more seasoned colleagues could not at Euro 2012, grinding out a positive result against the European champions
By Mohammed Ali | French Football Writer
It was deserved. A hard-earned point in a dramatic encounter. Olivier Giroud's 93rd minute equaliser for France in the 1-1 draw with world champions Spain proved not only a relief for Les Bleus, but a welcome reprieve for coach Didier Deschamps as well.
Just days after the 1-0 defeat to Japan, a positive result against the best side in international football looked all the more unlikely. Factor in the growing number of players who were cast out of the national squad for injury or disciplinary issues, the result looks all the more reassuring.
|MATCH FACTS | Spain 1-1 France
Of course, Deschamps' new project was in danger of back-firing amidst fierce calls to re-introduce Samir Nasri and Hatem Ben Arfa, who were dropped after the Euro 2012 fiasco. Tuesday evening's brave performance against Spain, however, gives hope that the current crop of players has what it takes to instil a hardworking team ethic in the French camp.
Given La Furia Roja's astonishing record in qualifying, it's easy to see why Deschamps lauded his team's performance in the 1-1 draw with the European champions. Under Vicente del Bosque, Spain enjoyed a 100 per cent record in 17 games at home and could have snatched their 25th consecutive victory in qualifying at the Vicente Calderon on Tuesday. Indeed, it has been seven years since Spain dropped points at home in a competitive game - in September 2005 against Serbia and Montenegro.
Achieving a draw against such an outstanding team on their own turf is certainly astonishing. What makes the result even more impressive is the fact that just six players who started in the 2-0 Euro 2012 quarter-final loss against Spain four months ago kept their places on Tuesday night.
The difference was clear to see. No longer lethargic, France improved after Sergio Ramos tapped in from close range midway through the first half. A slice of luck came their way via Hugo Lloris' penalty save from Cesc Fabregas, but the ascendancy in their play was clear to see.
In Donetsk in June, against the very same opponent, it was clear that the French were stale, uninterested and unable to break down the Spaniards, who toyed with Les Bleus with relative ease. In Madrid, there would be no such thing, as the visitors rallied towards the end with numerous opportunities and deservedly earned a draw. Those who failed when the chips were down at Euro 2012 must be trembling.
Maxime Gonalons was handed only his fifth cap on Tuesday, while Blaise Matuidi and Yohan Cabaye are still new faces at international level. Yet they held their own against a vastly more experienced Spanish midfield, and this was in stark contrast with the performance of the older generation who had brought French football to yet another setback in Poland and Ukraine.
Along with the aforementioned trio, it was Toulouse midfielder Moussa Sissoko who instigated the equalising opportunity for Giroud, while Marseille star Mathieu Valbuena enjoyed a sizeable impact as a second-half substitute. No Nasri, no Ben Arfa, also no Alou Diarra, Rio Mavuba, Yann M'Vila. A breath of fresh air for a national team to build upon in 2013 ahead of a possible World Cup place.
The young starlets have taken the French jersey and made it their own with tireless performances and a collective spirit to do well. Something that the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 squads bizarrely failed to even muster.
Samir Nasri, who ensured his off-the-field controversy took precedent over his competitive nature, was put to shame. Deschamps, who bravely stuck with the new guard in midfield despite injury problems, was vindicated.
On the day when France's new Under-21 squad were eliminated from Euro 2013 qualifying by Norway, going down 5-1 at one point before eventually losing 5-3, the 1-1 draw with the world champions has boosted the morale ahead of the tough times ahead.