Group H winners Spain had the equal best attacking record in the group stages, scoring eight goals along with Germany and Argentina, and coach Luis Aragones was filled with belief in his team ahead of the knock-out clash with France
“All respect to the French, but I am sure we will get past them to reach the quarter-finals,” Aragones said.
“France are a very good team, there is no doubt about that – but I am convinced we will beat them.
“I believe we will get back to our best, as we were against Ukraine and then in the second half against Tunisia. That’s the kind of image we want to show,” added the 67 year old Spanish coach.
Spain started the tournament in fine form with an ultra-impressive first up 4-0 demolition job of Ukraine, but have since tapered off, having to come from behind to beat Tunisia 3-1 in their second match, and then stumbling to a 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia when their entire starting 11 were rested.
However, the coach and players alike are still upbeat about their chances of reaching the World Cup Final for the first time, with defender Pablo Ibanez sighting France’s ageing line-up could be a weakness.
“They have great players who play for big clubs – and they have played alongside each other for a long time.
“We will look to play our own game. France have an ageing midfield and we will have to make them run,” said the Atletico Madrid player.
“We have a good feeling about this one. We are very confident in our abilities. Confidence is on a high after our three group wins,” Ibanez added.
Exploiting weak points
France finished second in Group G and although they went through undefeated, it has been a difficult fortnight for Raymond Domenech and his players as they drew their first two matches with Switzerland and South Korea, and left it until the second half to finally put Togo away in their last group match.
French coach Raymond Domenech didn’t sound as confident as his Spanish counterpart when assessing the upcoming encounter.
“I don’t make us favourites or the outsider. We start the game 0-0, it’s not comment or FIFA rankings that make the difference, it’s what happens on the pitch,” the Frenchman said.
“We know that if we aren’t solid at the back against Spain we might as well prepare our ticket home.
“Spain are a side who score a lot of goals, who play well and who have high quality players.
“But we know them well. We have to find their weak points and exploit them,” added Domenech.
Overcoming the next hurdle:
With regular captain and influential midfielder Zinedine Zidane available for selection again after serving his one match suspension, the French coach has a big choice to make when deciding whether to stick with the same line-up that beat Togo, or to reintroduce Zidane to the starting side, perhaps at the expense of striker David Trezeguet or midfielder Frank Ribery.
Patrick Vieira, stand in French captain for the match against Togo, suggested improvement both on individual and team levels for the French could be the key to progressing further in the tournament.
“I’m getting stronger just like the team. We’re getting better and better in each match,” Vieira said.
“I hope the result against Togo will prove a trigger and that it’s going to free us because when we’re liberated we’re capable of beautiful things.”
One of the stand out match-ups of the second round indeed promises to be a beautiful affair, with the youthful flair of Spain up against the experienced grace of France.
There can only be one victor however, with the winner going on to meet either Brazil or Ghana in a quarter final match in Frankfurt.