- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 2, 2014

CLAIREFONTAINE, France (AP) - France defender Bacary Sagna expects a backlash from a humiliated Spain when they meet in a friendly on Thursday.

While France won over its fans following some strong performances at the World Cup, Spain’s dejected supporters are reeling from of a calamitous early exit that prompted the international retirement of Xavi Hernandez, Xabi Alonso, and David Villa.

Even though Spain is likely to test new players at Stade de France, quickly restoring a sense of pride is sure to be a priority for a once-dominant side.

“Spain slipped up but they have quality players who would get into any team. They were the best in the world for five years and maybe after winning everything they eased up a bit,” Sagna said on Tuesday at France’s training camp. “It was a bit of a slap in the face for them, but the talent’s still there, and they will want to show they can reach the highest level again.”

Up to six players could make their Spain debuts. Among them are Atletico Madrid midfielder Raul Garcia and Valencia striker Paco Alcacer.

“They’re rebuilding, but they remain a great nation. It will be a tough match,” said France winger Antoine Griezmann, Garcia’s clubmate.

Griezmann expects the newcomers to adopt the same efficient brand of football that was Spain’s hallmark when it won European Championships in 2008 and 2012 and the World Cup in 2010.

“It will be possession football. Those replacing the older players will play in the same way,” Griezmann said. “We’ll have to win otherwise I’ll get teased in the Atletico Madrid dressing room.”

Griezmann is one of several Spain-based players who could start for France. The others are Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema, clubmate and center half Raphael Varane, and Barcelona defender Jeremy Mathieu.

Sagna, who plays for English champion Manchester City, thinks France’s players gained respect at the World Cup, where coach Didier Deschamps’ team was beaten 1-0 by eventual champion Germany in the quarterfinals.

“People respect us a bit more now than in previous years, because we’ve shown that we’re ready to scrap and to give everything,” Sagna said. “We approach matches in a much calmer way and we’re more confident. Teams are not indifferent to that, and they are starting to fear France more and more.”

Winning over the notoriously hard-to-please French fans was a victory in itself, following consecutive failures at Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup, where France failed to get past the group stages.

“I sensed it when I came back to France to stay for a few days after the World Cup,” said Sagna, who has played 42 times for France. “People stopped me in the street to congratulate me. It surprised me a bit, and it felt good.”

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