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France beat Spain as World Cup hangover lingers

By James Masters, CNN
September 4, 2014 -- Updated 2122 GMT (0522 HKT)
Diego Costa failed to hit the target as Spain suffered a 1-0 defeat against France in Paris.
Diego Costa failed to hit the target as Spain suffered a 1-0 defeat against France in Paris.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • France defeats Spain 1-0 in Paris
  • Loic Remy scores only goal of the game
  • Italy defeats Netherlands 2-0 in Bari
  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic becomes Sweden's record goalscorer

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(CNN) -- After the inquisition, the exhibition -- or an exhibition game at the very least.

At the Stade de France in Paris, those who once ruled the world took their first steps towards redemption.

Call it pigeon steps but this was more evolution rather than revolution.

While a new generation of Spanish players may have taken to the field, the result proved to be the same.

Not one single shot on target and only a few fleeting moments of encouragement, this will not be a night where those who had hoped for progress will feel reassured.

Loic Remy's 73rd minute strike condemned Spain to defeat as those in red struggled to escape the shadow which has been cast upon them since their chastening World Cup experience.

It was on a Friday night on June 20 inside Rio de Janeiro's iconic Maracana Stadium where the football's landscape shifted in a seismic measure which so few had predicted.

For so long, Spain had danced around the world like a matador teasing a bull, showing its opponent the ball before moving it away with a style and swagger which delighted so many.

Its brand of 'tiki-taka' brought success -- the 2010 World Cup sandwiched in between victories at the 2008 and 2012 European Championship finals.

But in Brazil it imploded.

The warning signs had been there. The Confederations Cup, which was held in Brazil 12 months before the World Cup, gave a glimpse of what was to follow.

An embarrassing 3-0 defeat in the final against the host nation should have caused some sort of rethink from Vicente Del Bosque, the man who has presided over the most successful period in his nation's history.

And yet it did not come.

The opening World Cup game against the Dutch was a sobering affair -- a game in where Spain was fortunate to get one in a 5-1 defeat.

Against Chile, where it needed a performance to prove its doubters wrong and protect its legacy, it barely managed to raise itself beyond a whimper.

But that episode has passed -- and those who once wore the red with such distinction have also moved on.

Xavi Hernandez, the man whose metronomic passing allowed the supporting orchestra to perform with such an overwhelming crescendo, has retired, as too have Carles Puyol and Xabi Alonso.

Iker Casillas, the goalkeeper who endured a dismal World Cup, was forced to sit on the bench, while Gerard Pique, the Barcelona defender, was not even included in the squad.

No, this time Del Bosque gave an opportunity to those who may yet come to be Spain's future.

Koke, the Atletico Madrid midfielder, one of the outstanding stars of La Liga last season, began in midfield alongside club teammate Raul Garcia, while Athletic Bilbao's Mikel San Jose started in defense.

Brazil's stand-in captain David Luiz was left in tears after his side was thrashed 7-1 in the semifinal by Germany. Brazil, hoping to win the tournament for a sixth time, trailed 5-0 at halftime. Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said it was the worst day of his life. Brazil's stand-in captain David Luiz was left in tears after his side was thrashed 7-1 in the semifinal by Germany. Brazil, hoping to win the tournament for a sixth time, trailed 5-0 at halftime. Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said it was the worst day of his life.
Humiliation of the host nation
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World Cup: The top 10 matches World Cup: The top 10 matches
Germany's Mario Gotze scores the goal that would decide the World Cup final Sunday, July 13, in Rio de Janeiro. Gotze, a late substitute, scored the goal in extra time as Germany won 1-0. Click through the gallery to see all the goals scored in the World Cup. Germany's Mario Gotze scores the goal that would decide the World Cup final Sunday, July 13, in Rio de Janeiro. Gotze, a late substitute, scored the goal in extra time as Germany won 1-0. Click through the gallery to see all the goals scored in the World Cup.
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
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Photos: Every goal from the World Cup Photos: Every goal from the World Cup

But in a disjointed first half, it was those who were absent which perhaps emerged with greater credit.

The genius of Andres Iniesta, sidelined with a hip injury was sorely missed while the attacking threat posed by normal full-back Jordi Alba was sacrificed for the more defensive minded Cesar Azpilicueta.

Fans in Berlin celebrate after Germany defeated Argentina in the World Cup final Sunday, July 13, in Rio de Janeiro. Germany won 1-0 with a goal from Mario Gotze in extra time. Click through to see reactions from fans around the world as they watched their favorite teams compete in the soccer tournament. Fans in Berlin celebrate after Germany defeated Argentina in the World Cup final Sunday, July 13, in Rio de Janeiro. Germany won 1-0 with a goal from Mario Gotze in extra time. Click through to see reactions from fans around the world as they watched their favorite teams compete in the soccer tournament.
Shock and awe: World Cup reactions
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But against a France team which will host the European Championship finals in two years time, this new look Spanish side struggled to create any real opportunities.

France, which exited the World Cup at the quarterfinal stage following a disappointing performance against eventual champion Germany, fielded a strong side which included Karim Benzema, the Real Madrid forward.

Twice in the first half Benzema tested David de Gea in the Spanish goal but on each occasion the Manchester United man was equal to the task.

The second half began in similar fashion to the first -- with France on top and playing a sense of freedom, a joie de vivre which Spain could only wish it possessed.

Benzema appeared to have given his side the lead after sweeping the ball home following good work by Moussa Sissoko but the offside flag dampened any celebrations.

Spain made changes in the second half with the ineffective Diego Costa, so lethal for Chelsea in the English Premier League, making way along with Cesc Fabregas.

But even with the introduction of Valencia's Paco Alcacer and Barcelona's Pedro, the visiting side failed to create anything of note.

And when France carved out an opportunity with 17 minutes remaining it was duly taken by Remy, who lashed home Mathieu Valbuena's pullback from 10-yards.

That goal did serve to awaken Spain from its slumber, David Silva firing inches wide of the far post after neat interplay with Pedro.

It was only with the introduction of Silva that Spain looked capable of piecing something together, though when it did, the French defense stood firm.

Defeat was not only deserved but it gave the impression that Del Bosque has still not solved his side's problems.

Macedonia awaits in Madrid on Monday in the opening qualification game for the 2016 European Championship finals -- there can be no more room for error.

Italy success

Elsewhere, Antonio Conte made a successful start to his reign as Italy manager with a 2-0 win over the Netherlands in Bari.

Ciro Immobile and Daniel de Rossi scored the goals for the home side against a Dutch team which played for 81 minutes with 10 men after Bruno Martins Indi was sent off.

In Sweden, Zlatan Ibrahimovic became his country's leading goalscorer after netting his 49th and 50th goals in a 2-0 win over Estonia.

In Liege, Belgium defeated Australia 2-0, while Croatia overcame Cyprus 2-0 and Bosnia eased to a 3-0 win over Liechtenstein.

Read: The top 10 matches of Brazil 2014

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