Spain 2 - France 1
Cañizares; Manuel Pablo, Nadal, Hierro, Sergi; Mendieta (Etxeberria
90'), Guardiola, Iván Helguera (Baraja 64'), Munitis (Vicente 73');
Raúl, Morientes (Javi Moreno 82'). 4-4-2.
Report by our international correspondents Borja Pantzov and Goran Arsic.
So our brief stay in Benidorm comes to an end and it's off to Valencia to watch the "selección" take on the European and World champions France. Goran has been hiding in a wardrobe in our hotel room for the last few days and sneaks out to a car wearing a false beard with a blanket over his head. Sometimes I worry about Goran. To get us into the mood we decide to go to a French restaurant near Valencia. I ask the waiter if he has frogs legs, but he takes offence and says no, do I have monkeys brains, so I play it safe and order onion soup. Anyway it's an important game and although it is a friendly match, half the world will be watching to see how France are preparing their World cup campaign. We have no doubts that we will win this one, partly because our boys are on form after beating Liechtenstein at the weekend, but also because it is a friendly. Spain have no problems winning when there is very little at stake, but put them in to the finals of a major championship and the wheels fall right off. At club level our world class players, Raúl, Hierro, Mendieta, Guardiola and all can mix it with the best of them, but nobody knows why it doesn't work when they put on the red shirts.
Camacho picks a similar side to the one last weekend, with Sergi coming in for Romero, Morientes now recovered replacing the injured Javi Moreno, and Cañizares taking over (temporarily I imagine) in goal at his home ground against the team that caused his downfall a year ago. There are a few old faces on the other side, with Real Madrid's Makelele and Barcelona's Petit currently playing their football in Spain and Karembeu and Lizarazu both having played here in the past with Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao respectively. With threats from the terrorist organization ETA against Lizarazu, a French Basque, and also against the Spanish Basque players Mendieta and Etxeberria, security is tight, and the players are surrounded by bodyguards (maybe that's why Goran is so nervous), making it difficult to believe this is a friendly match. In fact someone says that they were thinking of asking all the supporters from the Bilbao area to go through one turnstile, but then they remembered the old adage don't put all your Basques in one exit and decided not to (I think this was supposed to be a joke but I don't get it?).
It doesn't seem to be very friendly on the pitch either, with both sides going in hard, although German referee Herr Fröhlich (Mr.Happy) only shows two yellow cards, to Hierro and Raúl. France look the better side in the first half, with Cañizares saving at Henry's feet and Zidane shooting just wide. At the other end Desailly stops a shot from Helguera before the Madrid midfielder puts us into the lead with his second goal in four days, this time getting it right and connecting with Mendieta's cross with his head rather than his shoulder, as he did on Saturday. At half time the ground is buzzing, and the second half starts with expectation in the air. Then the best goal of the night, Raúl still smarting after missing his penalty against France in the Euro 2000 wins the ball in the penalty area and starts a quick passing move with his Real Madrid team mates Morientes and Helguera which ends with Morientes bending a shot past Letizi.
The Real Madrid striker almost does it again a few minutes later, this time Munitis setting him up, but then France take over, with substitutes Wiltord and Pires causing problems. Zidane goes off to everyone's relief, and Camacho starts to bring on Valencia players to cheer up the home crowd, with first Baraja coming on for Helguera to join Cañizares and Mendieta, and then the young Vicente making his full international debut only three days after playing in the under 21 match between the two sides, which we understand is something of a first. Local boy Javi Moreno also comes on to replace Morientes near the end, even though he is still not fully fit, and if press reports are to be believed he too will be joining Valencia next season, which would make it five of their players on the pitch at once.
With five minutes to go another substitute Trezeguet gets ahead of Nadal to control Henry's cross and beat Cañizares, and France finish strongly with the crowd whistling at the referee to end the game. Unfortunately for Sergio and particularly Téllez, yet to make his debut, Mr. Happy takes notice and only adds a minute, and the two are left on the touchline unable to come on. But Spain have beaten the world champions, the first victory against our northern neighbours in over 20 years! The crowd are singing happily, all except for Goran, who is still looking over his shoulder as we leave the ground. I tell him that he shouldn't worry, that he is not a target for the Basque separatists, but he explains that he is more frightened of the large lady from Bradford who he met at Benidorm before the game with Liechtenstein. We make a hasty exit and set off for Barcelona, and he relaxes when we are in the car. Our team has done us proud, but we both know deep down that if we meet them again in the World cup finals it will be another story. Why is it always the Germans, French, Italians, Argentinians or Brazilians who win everything? Answers on a postcard please to the Spanish federation (with copy to the English) at the following address.....