France began their bid to expel their 2010 World Cup demons with a strong, if not routine 3-0 victory against a Honduras side lacking the World Cup pedigree of the French. After Switzerland’s late come-from-behind victory against Ecuador, it was Les Blues’ turn to show what they were capable of and they did so to devastating effect.
Even though they were missing players such as Franck Ribery, Clement Grenier and Samir Nasri for varying reasons, the French team were still a formidable opponent for the Central American side, and it showed as the game went on.
Honduras started the game determined to win the midfield battle, and a battle it was, with crunching tackles and strong fouls threatening to halt the French flow. You could be forgiven for thinking the Honduras players had been shown footage of the now infamous Battle of Santiago match in the 1962 World Cup between Chile and Italy. Indeed Wilson Palacios and Paul Pogba each got booked in the 25th minute for a stamp and a retaliatory kick out respectively. Palacios — who plays for English Premiership side Stoke City —would come to rue that yellow card, as he got a second yellow and a subsequent red for a blatant foul again on Paul Pogba in the box. Karim Benzema dispatched the penalty with almost the last kick of the half, giving his side a one goal lead at halftime.
Honduras made two changes at halftime hoping to stifle the French attack, but Karim Benzema had other ideas. In the 48th minute he latched onto a pass from Yohan Cabaye and thundered a shot onto the post and off the hapless Noel Valladares into the net. With the game now practically over as a contest, the game settled into a rhythmic waltz of fluid French passing and forceful Honduran tackling, interrupted briefly by another Benzema thunderbolt into the roof of the net in the 72nd minute.
Honduras will be justifiably ashamed of their overly physical performance at Porto Alegre, and will have to show something different against Ecaudor in their next game if they are to have any hope of coming out of this group. They started the game with a 4-4-2 formation, hoping they could exploit their pace up front and on the wings, but their lack of quality relative to the French meant they rarely threatened. They got nothing in midfield, and what little threat they posed was quickly stifled by the young defensive pair of Mamadou Sakho and Raphael Varane.
The French midfield trio of Pogba, Matuidi and Cabaye were solid and controlled, with Mathieu Valbuena and Antoine Griezmann looking impressive alongside a rejuvenated Karim Benzema. Valbuena in particular dictated the tempo, making pin point passes, intelligent runs and delivering accurate crosses from almost every set piece. Indeed the first major chance of the game came from a Valbuena free kick on the right hand side, the ball falling kindly off the back of a Honduras player to Blaise Matuidi, whose shot was tipped onto the bar by Valladares.
The 3-0 win over Honduras albeit expected, is encouraging. The French national side came into this World Cup after the farce that was 2010 with relatively low expectations, and will want to continue to show the unity and confidence they displayed in this game as the tournament progresses. Their next game against the Swiss will provide the first true test of their credentials in this World Cup and on the evidence of tonight’s performance, they will be no pushovers.