Group I preview: Valbuena aiming high

Mathieu Valbuena insists France has what it takes to pip Spain to first place in Group I as the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers begin on Friday evening (Saturday morning AEST).

Les Bleus kick off their campaign against Finland in Helsinki, but all eyes will be on the ongoing tussle between Didier Deschamps' charges and the reigning world and European champion for the right to play in Brazil in two years' time.

As the odd team out in the only group to comprise just five nations, Spain has been afforded a few extra days to prepare for its opener in Georgia, but Valbuena hopes France can put pressure on its Iberian neighbour by clinching an early victory in Scandinavia.

The Marseille midfielder told L'Equipe: "We're our own worst enemy and if we start slowly, we may suffer a surprise result.

"But if we are focused and determined, we can do better than them.

"With Spain in our group, we cannot afford to make any mistakes.

"We have to take maximum points from our first two matches, but it will not be easy."

Deschamps was previously the explosive 27-year-old's manager at the Stade Velodrome and Valbuena believes the professional continuity will be beneficial to both parties.

"He hasn't changed," he added. "His opinions on life and on the game remain the same.

"He likes to create a winning culture on the pitch.

"That's what he did to win titles with Marseille. He's always the same, that's just the way he is."

Finland head coach Mixu Paatelainen has largely focused on putting the pieces back together after the Finns' failure to qualify for EURO 2012.

Paatelainen's side is currently ranked 96th in the latest FIFA world rankings and has never qualified for a major tournament.

Georgia will play host to Vicente del Bosque's indomitable Spain side on Tuesday evening (Wednesday morning AEST), but Belarus will enjoy a slighter shorter trip to the Boris Paichadze National Stadium on Friday evening (Saturday morning AEST).

Despite their proximity, the two eastern European nations have never played each other on the world stage.

Former Newcastle United midfielder Temuri Ketsbaia has been in charge of his home nation of Georgia for three years since reviving the fortunes of Cypriot club Anorthosis Famagusta.

Belarus, coached by Georgy Kondratiev, is unbeaten in its last four friendly matches, with promising Brazilian-born midfielder Renan Bressan emerging as the focal point of the team.

Source PA Sport