MADRID: Just when they seemed on a slippery slope after an embarrassing defeat against Japan, a gritty France showed they were still a force to be reckoned with a 1-1 draw against Spain in Tuesday's World Cup qualifier.
Les Bleus lost 1-0 at home in a friendly against Japan last Friday following a shaky performance and few would have bet their defence would hold up against the world and European champions.
Indeed, it seemed Didier Deschamps's team were heading to a defeat similar to their 2-0 Euro quarter-final loss against Spain when Sergio Ramos opened the scoring in the first half.
France had a goal disallowed for offside and conceded a penalty. But when Hugo Lloris saved Cesc Fabregas's spot kick the visitors still had something to play for after the break.
Deschamps, France's most decorated football player, found the words to inspire his team during the interval.
“The coach's speech has a lot to do with our performance,” centre back Mamadou Sakho told reporters.
“He told us not to let go, that we still could grab a draw and possibly win this game.”
France upped the tempo and were rewarded in added time when Olivier Giroud headed home to snatch a well deserved point.
They are level with Spain on seven points in Group I and their next meeting at the Stade de France on March 26, 2013 could decide who will directly qualify for the World Cup.
“I don't mean to be arrogant but it would have been unfair not to snatch at least a point,” said Yohan Cabaye.
France, however, are well aware they can struggle against minor teams and are mindful of the need to keep their feet on the ground.
“It is just a step (towards qualification),” warned Lloris.
They next meet Italy and Germany in friendlies and Georgia at home in a World Cup qualifier before hosting Spain.
“Spain remain the favourites (to qualify as group winners) but why not go get them,” said Giroud. “But it's a long road.”
Deschamps agreed there was room for improvement in his side.
“It's a young team, we still can do better and we need to build on what we've been doing,” the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 winner told a news conference.
“We are aware that we are not the best. But we are not the worst team either.”