Breaking Down the Key Matchups of France's World Cup Opener with Honduras

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Breaking Down the Key Matchups of France's World Cup Opener with Honduras
Jacques Brinon/Associated Press

Few will expect anything less than a France victory when they begin their FIFA World Cup campaign against Honduras on Sunday.

Didier Deschamps' men will be heavy favourites to start their quest for a second world title with a win against a team appearing at the finals for just the third time.

Yet the 1998 champions cannot afford to be complacent ahead of the clash in Porto Alegre as France seek to avoid another group stage exit following a disastrous tournament in South Africa four years ago.

But where will France's tournament opener be won and lost?

Here I take a look at the matchups that should play a key role in determining the outcome at Estadio Beira-Rio.

 

Jerry Bengtson and Carlo Costly Vs. the France defence

Honduras are very much the outsiders for qualification from Group E, but in Jerry Bengtson and Carlo Costly they do possess at least two forwards that have displayed a knack for finding the net at international level.

Moises Castillo/Associated Press

New England Revolution's Bengtson has 19 goals for his country in 44 caps, while the experienced 31-year-old Costly has 31 to his name.

Both strikers played a key role in Honduras' qualification for the finals, however, a clash with the 1998 world champions promises to provide the duo with a more stern test.

France conceded just eight goals during their qualification campaign and possess considerable quality at the back in the form of Raphael Varane, Mamadou Sakho and Patrice Evra.

Still, Deschamps' side displayed considerable fallibility in the first leg of their qualification play-off with Ukraine in November, which they lost 2-0 before turning the tie on its head with a 3-0 success in the second leg in Paris.

Bengtson and Costly will aim to try and take advantage of any nervousness the French may be feeling as they attempt to right the wrongs of 2010.

But the fact remains that France are a different calibre of opposition to what Luis Suarez's men faced in qualification, and their striking duo will need to be on top form in order to have any chance of breaking the French back line down.

 

The midfield battle

On paper France should have far too much quality in their midfield for Honduras to handle. 

Deschamps will likely field a midfield three featuring the Paris Saint-Germain duo of Yohan Cabaye and Blaise Matuidi and Juventus star Paul Pogba.

All three of these players have Champions League experience and have the talent to create chances against Honduras.

But, as they demonstrated in the recent friendly with England, Honduras' midfield duo of Wilson Palacios and Roger Espinoza are unlikely to allow France the freedom of the park.

Palacios is the more defensively minded of the pair, but both will present a physical and robust challenge to the France engine room and attempt to repeat their performance against England and stymie Les Bleus.

Neither Palacios nor Espinoza, given their experience at Premier League level, should be fazed by the prospect of lining up against France. However, performing at a World Cup presents a whole new challenge, one that they will need to meet in order to avoid being steamrollered by the Group E favourites.

 

Noel Valladares Vs. Olivier Giroud and Karim Benzema

As much as Honduras fans would like to think otherwise, France are going to create opportunities against them.

It is an inevitability with the players that Deschamps has at his disposal, and the fear for fans of the minnows will be that France's strikers display the same kind of clinical form demonstrated in last Sunday's emphatic 8-0 victory against a hapless Jamaica side.

In that game Karim Benzema netted twice and struck the post, while Olivier Giroud also hit the target in an embarrassingly easy triumph for France.

Despite the disparity in class in the game against Jamaica, that performance should have given France plenty of confidence, especially in front of goal.

Honduras goalkeeper Noel Valladares, a 37-year-old veteran of over 100 caps, is the man tasked with preventing Benzema, who appears set to start in the absence of Franck Ribery, and Giroud from running riot.

If he does not succeed, then things could quickly get ugly for Honduras.

 

Didier Deschamps Vs. Luis Suarez

When it comes down to it, this will be a match played in the dugout as well as on the field.

To even the casual observer, it is obvious that France should have way too much for Honduras to cope with.

That is unless Honduras head coach Luis Suarez can come up with a game plan to stop an imposing French attack.

Honduras' goalless draw with England marked their first clean sheet in seven games, yet it came in a contest with nothing riding on it and played in difficult conditions in Miami.

And, given the gap in quality between the two sides, finding the right balance between attack and defence promises to be a challenge for the Colombian Suarez.

Jacques Brinon/Associated Press

At the other end of the scale, expect Deschamps to field an attacking lineup with the idea of not only winning but winning handsomely as France aim to establish a strong goal difference ahead of supposed tougher tests with Switzerland and Ecuador.

Deschamps elected to play Benzema on the left-flank against Jamaica, with Mathieu Valbuena deployed on the opposite wing but with free reign to roam and create opportunities.

It remains to be seen whether the former Marseille coach will opt to go with a similar system versus Honduras.

However, what can be guaranteed is that questions will be asked of Deschamps should he be outdone by his opposite number in the technical area.  

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