France vs. Spain: Who Would Win Between France 1998 and Spain 2010?

Karl MatchettFeatured ColumnistMarch 25, 2013

MADRID, SPAIN - JULY 12: Spanish goalkeeper and capitain Iker Casillas kisses the cup on a stage set up for the Spanish team victory ceremony on July 12, 2010 in Madrid, Spain. Spain won the 2010 FIFA football World Cup match against the Netherlands in Johannesburg on July 11.   (Photo by Angel Martinez/Getty Images)
Angel Martinez/Getty Images

Two of the most impressive international sides of recent times, separated by a dozen years between FIFA World Cup wins: France, in 1998 on their own turf, and Spain, in 2010 in Germany.

Some of the greatest individual talents the world has seen took part in those two finals, but who would win a match if played between the two sides at their peak?

Let's first of all take a reminder of the two teams who were in action.


France '98: Barthez; Thuram, Desailly, Leboeuf, Lizarazu; Deschamps, Petit, Karembeu, Zidane; Djorkaeff, Guivarc'h.

Spain '10: Casillas; Ramos, Pique, Puyol, Capdevila; Busquets, Alonso, Xavi; Pedro, Villa, Iniesta.


Individual Talents

France, first and foremost, possessed one of the world's best of all time in Zinedine Zidane.

His ability needs no introduction, no explanation. Zidane was the greatest of his time, perhaps, and could win a game on his own in a heartbeat.

France's central defensive duo of Marcel Desailly and Laurent Blanc was one of the best in world football, but they were split for the final due to Blanc's harsh suspension. Both full-backs were also world class, while Deschamps and Petit were among the most reliable defensive central midfielders of the decade, albeit in very different styles.

For Spain, their two standout talents are arguably the midfield duo of Xavi and Andres Iniesta. In this national team lineup, Xavi is the most advanced central midfielder, while Iniesta took up a free roaming role from the left of the attack.

Iker Casillas was, and remains, one of the most notable goalkeepers around, while the entire team is capable and comfortable on the ball.


The great advantage that the modern-day Spain side give themselves, of course, is incredible ball retention.

A midfield almost entirely encased in Barcelona players, with the notable exception of Xabi Alonso, delights in keeping hold of the ball for huge spells at a time.

France could attack at blistering pace on the counter but were by no means solely a counterattacking side. Their power and speed down the flanks, with their progressive full-backs, meant they were able to keep bodies central in midfield as they bid to open up the opposition.


Key Battles

Presuming that Spain would have most of the possession in the game, the immediate most likely battles would become apparent.

In the centre, the constant rotating of positions between Alonso, Iniesta and Xavi which give so many teams problems might be countered by France's ability to pile men in front of the defence. Deschamps was more of a deep orchestrator of play than a ball-winner, but he could certainly marshal a defensive line too, and with Karembeu and Petit alongside him, there would be no shortage of work-rate.

France's out-balls would likely be twofold: the attacking full-backs on both sides and the more advanced attacking players other than Guivarc'h, who would be Djorkaeff and Zidane.

The technical ability of those two would rival even the double pivot of Alonso and Busquets.


Where the Game Is Won

Spain tend to free their full-backs as often as possible, to stretch play and keep the opposition pressed as high up the pitch as they can.

Joan Capdevila was criticised in some quarters for not being as capable in this regard as his teammates, but he certainly knew his role and was a steady defender too, an often overlooked skill in this team.

What the France team lacks, other than in Thuram and Lizarazu, is a real pacey, direct threat in the final third. Even if their midfield would manage to crowd out the Spain buildup phases of play, unless Zidane managed to hold the ball up almost by himself, there would be too few opportunities to break forward in numbers and try to create sustained spells of attacking possession.

At the other end, David Villa in his prime, and playing centrally, might just have the edge over a defensive partnership who, though containing one of the world's greatest in Marcel Desailly, had been robbed of the game-reading skills of Laurent Blanc.

Leboeuf was a fine player in his own right, but against maybe the most relentless attack in the game, would his concentration have held out?


Predicted Result

That direct battle between the movement of Villa, constantly looking to get on the end of the one pass which makes it through the crowded midfield and defence, and the reworked France back four, would be the most telling one of all.

Villa would be presented with a chance during the match, or his movement would perhaps allow Pedro, cutting in between full- and centre-backs, the space to have a chance on goal himself.

It would be a close game, and likely not one of the classics, but Spain would just about edge this one. Iniesta, Xavi and company to win by the odd goal.