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Spain draw the makings of a French renaissance?
Much-maligned after their feeble exit from Euro 2012, France served a warning to their detractors with a creditable 1-1 draw against world champions Spain in Tuesday's World Cup qualifier.
Substitute Olivier Giroud's 94th-minute equaliser at Atletico Madrid's Vicente Calderon salvaged a well-deserved point for Les Bleus, but the significance extended far beyond simply the result.
Spain, the defending two-time European and world champions, dropped their first points in a qualifying competition since 2007, yet it was a dominant French second-half performance that raised eyebrows.
France were outclassed by Vicente del Bosque's side at Euro 2012, crashing out after a lacklustre, overly defensive display in a 2-0 quarter-final defeat in Donetsk.
On Tuesday, Les Bleus appeared destined for a similar fate after Sergio Ramos put Spain ahead midway through the first half.
But under the tutelage of coach Didier Deschamps, who replaced Laurent Blanc following his resignation in June, a rejuvenated and France dominated their more fancied opponents after the interval.
Deschamps demonstrated a willingless to alter things tactically, introducing Mathieu Valbuena, Moussa Sissoko and Giroud, abandoning a 4-3-3 in favour of a 4-2-3-1 formation.
France were indebted to goalkeeper Hugo Lloris for denying Cesc Fabregas's first-half penalty, but having seen a Jeremy Menez goal incorrectly ruled out for offside, Giroud's last-gasp equaliser was scant reward for a commendable display in the Spanish capital.
The French press had forecast a sizeable defeat in Madrid but were quick to praise the result, with Le Parisien declaring: "This is how we like you", hours after calling for its readers to "Pray for them".
"Delightful" was the word used to describe the display by sports daily L'Equipe.
"Beyond the draw, which was like a victory, France without doubt delivered their best performance in a very long time."
"The moment when it was least expected, but in the context that lent itself the most, the France team have given the fans their happiest feeling since 2006," l'Equipe added, alluding to a 3-1 victory over Italy during the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign.
Only time will tell whether October 16, 2012 is the catalyst for an upturn in fortunes for the French national team, but Deschamps can use it as a reference point.
"I am happy for the players because this allows them to cement their good spirits and rewards their efforts," said Deschamps.
The 1998 World Cup winner cited his side's relative inexperience as a reason for caution, but the future appears promising for a group yet to reach its potential.
"I don't ask for leniency but we have a young team. The will, the character is there. We don't do everything well but we have room for improvement. We don't dominate everyone but we have quality," said Deschamps.
France succumbed to an embarrassing 1-0 loss at home to Japan on Friday, prompting concerns about the pedigree of the current side but Tuesday's spectacle, which also marked the first time La Roja had failed to win a competitive fixture at home in over seven years, went a long way to quash such worries.
The return fixture, which will be played at Stade de France next March, could ultimately determine which of Group I's heavyweights is granted automatic qualification for Brazil 2014.
"We have other points to collect against other teams. If everything goes well for Spain and for us, the head-to-head confrontations will make the difference. However, before the return leg we have to play Georgia and three points will be very important."
After a humiliating 2010 World Cup, beset by internal discord, France are eager to erase such bitter memories.
"We want to go to Brazil and, in one way or another, we will," Deschamps insisted.
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