Spain and France go into today’s World Cup qualifier in Madrid in very different form and with little margin for error in Group I, from which only the winner is guaranteed a place in Brazil in 2014.
The Spanish, current world and European champions, remain supremely confident after a 4-0 win in Belarus on Friday built around a Pedro Rodriguez hat-trick, while France crashed on the same evening to a 1-0 friendly defeat at home to Japan.
The clash comes less than four months since La Roja comfortably beat France 2-0 courtesy of a Xabi Alonso double in the quarter-finals of Euro 2012.
It has been business as usual for the Spanish since then. Two victories have seen them move to the top of the group on goal difference over today’s visitors, making it an incredible run of 24 consecutive wins in qualifying matches that stretches back to 2007.
Meanwhile, Didier Deschamps has taken over the reins of the French squad from Laurent Blanc and started a rebuilding programme that has seen Samir Nasri, Hatem Ben Arfa and Yann M’Vila cast into the cold following internal squabbles at the Euro.
France will be content with a point in Madrid, ahead of the return game in March, and Deschamps acknowledged as much in an interview with Spanish daily Marca.
“Spain are frightening. At the moment we are not comparable at all with them and nobody should be bothered by that (statement), because it’s true,” he said.
“Spain is the model that we all want to be, or try to copy. That does not mean we are going there to lose. We know what we have to do.”
Patrice Evra and Yohan Cabaye, who both missed the Japan game, should both be available for France after shrugging off injuries.