Spain back in the saddle with 1-0 win over FranceLONDON - World Cup champion Spain put its title defense back on track Tuesday night by beating France to seize control of its qualifying group, while Germany and the Netherlands claimed big victories to push them closer to the finals in Brazil.
Pedro Rodriguez scored the goal that secured a 1-0 victory for Spain in Paris, lifting the reigning champions out of a slump following back-to-back draws. France, which had Paul Pogba sent off when already trailing, fell a point behind Spain in Group I.
“They are three welcome points, and this changes our group position for the better,” Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said.
Germany surged eight points ahead in Group C by beating Kazakhstan 4-1, while the Netherlands maintained its perfect run in qualifying with a 4-0 rout of Romania. The Dutch now lead Group D by seven points. Italy remained unbeaten, with Mario Balotelli’s double giving the Italians a 2-0 victory in Malta and a three-point lead over Bulgaria in Group B.
But England stumbled again, drawing 1-1 at Group H leader Montenegro to remain two points back. And in Asia, Japan’s hopes of becoming the first team other than host Brazil to qualify for the 2014 World Cup were thwarted when Amer Sabah stopped a late penalty attempt from Yasuhito Endo to protect Jordan’s 2-1 victory.
“We had a mission,” Jordan coach Adnan Hamad said, “and we succeeded.”
Egypt moved a step closer to its first World Cup in 20 years with a 2-1 victory over Zimbabwe. It was the first time fans had been allowed into the stadium for an Egyptian home game in more than a year.
The nine group winners in Europe qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil while the top eight runners-up go to playoffs that will determine the final four spots.
Spain had dropped two points behind France after last Friday’s draw with Finland, an unfamiliar spot for the team that has won the last two European titles in addition to the 2010 World Cup. But the Spanish are back in control after Pedro settled a fiercely contested match in Paris in the 58th minute.
French hopes of a comeback were thwarted when Pogba picked up a second yellow card in the 78th for a late challenge on Xavi Hernandez.
“There are still three games left so there is plenty of time left to drop points, for both sides,” del Bosque said.
“This isn’t over, although it’s true France missed a chance to pull away.”