Spain struggles in attack as France grabs the win in friendly
PARIS (AP) — Spain's rebuilding following its shambolic World Cup got off to a bad start, failing even to manage a shot on target as France coasted to a 1-0 win in their friendly on Thursday.
France had an effort from Karim Benzema ruled out for offside early in the second half and scored in the 72nd minute when winger Mathieu Valbuena set up substitute Loic Remy for his sixth international goal.
With all-time leading scorer David Villa among the big names to have retired from international football, Spain looked tame in attack against World Cup quarterfinalist France, which fielded a strong side.
"It's a regeneration process, and that is what we're aspiring to," Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said. "You can't always look back in football, and I was pleased with the attitude of the players. It's true we didn't create a clear chance, but we got ourselves into some dangerous positions."
Yet Spain didn't threaten until the 83rd as David Silva's shot drifted just wide.
Breaking into Spain during a sustained period of success which saw it win two European Championships and a World Cup from 2008-2012 was a task in itself, and it is paying the price for heavy reliance on core players.
This was underlined by Raul Garcia making his international debut in midfield at the ripe age of 28, and Athletic Bilbao center half Mikel San Jose making his at 25. Altogether, five Spaniards made their debuts at Stade de France, including Athletic Bilbao defensive midfielder Ander Iturraspe and Valencia forward Paco Alcacer in the second half.
Goalkeeper David de Gea made only his third appearance despite having played for Atletico and Manchester United for five years.
Only three prominent players from Spain's golden era started: Midfielders Cesc Fabregas and Sergio Busquets, and center half Sergio Ramos — meaning Spain looked fragile. Fabregas did some damage, particularly when running at the heart of France's defense, but lacked support.
One of the biggest challenges facing Del Bosque is filling the midfield void left by the retirements of Xavi Hernandez and Xabi Alonso, who combined for nearly 250 caps.
"They used to play with their eyes shut with movement, precision, understanding," France coach Didier Deschamps said. "Del Bosque's a very good coach but he's no more of a magician than anyone else."
Spain passed with its usual crispness and there was the occasional intricate move once so commonplace, but largely the approach play lacked penetration, and midfielder Santi Cazorla was a peripheral figure wide on the left. Garcia played high up to give striker Diego Costa support but made little impression, while Busquets had to sit very deep to protect his back four.
De Gea was finally beaten when Remy curled a powerful shot into the left corner from about 12 yards out.
Del Bosque must get his newlook side up to speed quickly, as Spain opens its 2016 European Championship qualifying campaign against Macedonia at home on Monday.
"Independently of our World Cup result, even if we had done well we would have followed this same process," Del Bosque said.