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World Cup Qualifying, Europe: Duopoly collapses in Berlin, Madrid

Oct 16, 2012, 6:40 PM EDT

Spain v France - FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier Getty Images

Three days after providing evidence of a bipolar European soccer world, Germany and Spain were part of Tuesday’s most shocking results. Granted, home draws against good teams aren’t shocking in and of themselves. It’s the context of the results that make you appreciate what happened in Madrid and Berlin.

Let’s start in Iberia, where the world champions were in the process of another ho-hum, dominant in realtime if not the scoresheet-victory. An early goal from Sergio Ramos had given the Spaniards a 1-0 lead on France, and while Cesc Fábregas failed to double that lead when his spot kick was blocked by Hugo Lloris, this match had the same sense of redundant inevitability that accompanies all of Spain’s redundant and inevitable results.

The last time Spain was drawn at home in an official game was September 2005. They had gone 24 straight qualifiers (World Cup and European Championships) without a draw, let alone a loss. If waiting out a Spain win over France seemed like a waste of time, it’s because we had little reason to think otherwise.

But then, as Spain was trying to kill the clock, there was a  turnover. For some reason or another, France to fight what we all saw coming: Another Spain win. Collecting the ball, Les Bleus quickly moved into the counter, finding a huge, open, unmanned field in front of them. Moussa Sissoko brought the ball forward onto an inexplicably outnumbered Spanish defense.

How could this be happening? How did Spain, up 1-0 in the 94th minute, put themselves in a situation to be outmanned on a counterattack?

The ball went left to Franck Ríbery, his first touch a bullet cross to Olivier Giroud near the spot. Defying his teammates’ attempt to behead him, the Arsenal striker got his head around the ball, redirecting the equalizer just inside Iker Casillas’s right post, somehow giving France a point at the Vicente Calderón.

It’s exactly the outcome you always suspect Spain’s in danger of allowing, yet in 24 previous qualifiers, it hadn’t happened. No team had taken a point in Spain since Serbia seven years ago. Why France, and why now?

While Spain could have played better, it’s difficult to take anything away from a France squad that looked good for an equalizer long before Giroud leveled the score. Fighting through the surroundings, history, and inevitability, Les Bleus exhibited a tenacity for which their new coach is known. Though it’s debatable how often Didier Deschamps’ teams live up to that convenient reputation, tonight France were relentless. Their point in Madrid is an early tent pole for Deschamps’ reign.

MORE: Looking at the rest of Europe’s Tuesday results

At the other end of Tuesday’s spectrum is Germany, who played to some of the negative perceptions of the Joachim Löw era. Up 4-0 after 56 minutes against Sweden (in theory, the second best team of their group), the Germans seemed en route to a second consecutive statement game. At full time, they certainly sent a message, though one entirely different from the 6-1 pasting they gave Ireland on Friday. Instead, Germany gave up four goals in the last half hour and were drawn, 4-4.

The result was far more indicting than Spain’s, and while most of that is due to allowing four goals (instead of one), narrative plays a big part. In the wake of Germany’s disappointment at Euro 2012, it’s become more common to question the team’s mental stength. Call it character, resolve, toughness – whatever adjective you’d like. The complaints seek to explain why a team with so much talent can give performances like Tuesday’s.

With those critiques already in the public domain, there’ll be a temptation to make too much out of this admittedly shocking result. However, this match needs to be looked at for what it was: a shock. Löw and his staff need to determine why it happened and eliminate it, but given the sustained success die Nationalmannschaft have had under Löw, it would be a mistake to assume there are systemic problems in the team. At least, in lieu of further disappointments, “one off” is the far more reasonable conclusion.

With the possible exception to the loss in Ukraine to Italy, there hasn’t been a major setback in German soccer since 2004, tonight included.

 

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