Andres Iniesta back as Spain host France in key World Cup qualifier
France acknowledge they are the underdogs but are determined to give the world and European champions a run for their money
Spain and France go into tonight's World Cup qualifier in Madrid in very different form and with little margin for error in group I, from which only the winners are guaranteed a place at the finals in Brazil in 2014.
The Spanish, world and European champions, remain supremely confident after a 4-0 win in Belarus last 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 qualifier 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 tonight's visitors, making it an incredible run of 24 consecutive wins in qualifying matches stretching 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 European Championships.
For Spain, Vicente del Bosque rested Andres Iniesta against Belarus with the France game in mind, and the Barcelona midfielder is expected to start.
What will be intriguing in Del Bosque's starting line-up is his deployment of attacking players.
Against Belarus, he again started without a recognised striker, a tactic first used at the Euros held in Poland and Ukraine, with Cesc Fabregas deployed as a "false nine" at the point of the attack.
Fabregas also started the last encounter with the French as Spain's most advanced player. It was a game that the Spanish controlled from start to finish, and he may be asked to take up the same role again.
If that is the case, it will mean there will be no sentimental start for Fernando Torres at Atletico Madrid's Vicente Calderon stadium, where he started his career.
"It's a special place for me, and if I do play, it'll be for the first time since I left a long time ago, which motivates me more than ever," the Chelsea striker said.
On their way to victory at the Euros, La Roja conceded only one goal, and since Del Bosque has taken charge, their possession play has seen their defence beaten only 18 times in 38 official matches.
Without the injured Barcelona centre-back pairing of Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol, Del Bosque is expected to rely on Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos, who both started in Belarus.
France will be content with a point in Madrid, ahead of the return game in March, and Deschamps acknowledged as much.
"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," the France boss said. "Spain are the model that we all want to be, or try to copy.
"That does not mean we are going there to lose," he added. "We know what we have to do."
Patrice Evra and Yohan Cabaye, who both missed the game against Japan, should both be available for France after shrugging off injuries.