| Cristiano Ronaldo, during a practice session, on Monday. He will be making his 100th international appearance when Portugal take on Northern Ireland in a World Cup qualifier |
Paris: Hit by injuries and reeling from a surprise 0-1 loss to Japan, with their strikers struggling to score and a patched-up defence looking far from secure, France have enough to worry about without even thinking about Spain’s quality ahead of their World Cup qualifier on Tuesday.
Both teams won their opening two qualifiers to share the lead in Group I.
But while Spain cruised into top gear with a 4-0 away win in Belarus on Friday — extending their winning run in qualifiers to 24 — France’s confidence was dented by a late goal at home against Japan in a friendly the same night.
“We’re playing against the best team in the world, they’ve won two European Championships and the World Cup, so they are still the team to beat,” France defender Laurent Koscielny said. “They have a lot of similarities with Barcelona, we know all about their qualities. It will be a very hard match.”
In other matches, England look to cement their grip on Group H when they travel to play Warsaw in Poland, and Germany’s confidence will be sky-high for the visit of Sweden after routing Ireland 6-1 in Dublin. Germany have won their three games so far in Group C.
Cristiano Ronaldo failed to score for the first time in six matches as Portugal slipped to a 1-0 defeat away to Group F leader Russia on Friday, but the Real Madrid forward will be keen to make amends against Northern Ireland in Porto.
Italy are unbeaten in Group B and takes on Denmark in Milan. Something has to give in Group D when Romania face the Netherlands in Bucharest, with both countries on nine points.
Belgium and Croatia are also vying for supremacy in Group A. Belgium take on Scotland and Croatia hosts Wales, who beat Scotland 2-1 on Friday.
England’s strikers had no such problem finding the net against San Marino, with Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck scoring two goals each.“I’m used to playing with Wazza up front at Manchester United and am really relishing the chance to play with him for England,” Welbeck said. “Once we get into positions in and around the box, we know different styles of combinations to play.”
However, England go to Poland without winger Theo Walcott, who has a chest injury and stayed in hospital on Friday night after being poleaxed by San Marino goalkeeper Aldo Simoncini in England’s 5-0 win. Midfielder Frank Lampard sits out the trip because of a knee injury.
Steven Gerrard is expected to come back into the side after serving a one-game suspension and will take over the armband from Rooney, who climbed to fifth in England's all-time scorers list with 31 goals after his brace.
Rooney will continue to lead England’s attack but is wary of the threat posed by Poland, who have Borussia Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski.
“They’re a good team, good, quick team, counter-attacking team,” Rooney said.
Poland will move level on points with England with seven points if they win. Montenegro can also move up to seven points if they win against Ukraine, who have two points. (Agencies)