France threw down an early marker with a polished, professional 3-0 win over Honduras in their World Cup Group E opener.
Honduras lacked the quality to challenge France, who overcame their opponents' physical approach to claim the three points thanks to a brace of goals from Karim Benzema and an own goal from Honduras keeper Noel Valladares.
The Hondurans finished the game with 10 men after Wilson Palacios was shown two yellow cards for a pair of fouls on Paul Pogba, while goal-line technology was later called into action for Valladares' own goal.
France had questions to answer following the loss of star man Franck Ribery to injury, but they made a bright start in Porto Alegre.
The first opening fell to Blaise Matuidi, who collected a loose ball in the box and forced a fantastic reflex save out of Valladares. The waves of Les Bleus pressure kept sweeping towards the Honduras goal, and on 23 minutes, Antoine Griezmann thudded a header against the crossbar.
A minute later, France demonstrated their ability to attack at lightning pace. A sensational cross-field pass from Griezmann set Mathieu Valbuena free. Valbuena drove into the box and picked out Benzema, who could not direct his header on target.
Honduras’ approach to the game was hardly attacking, with their players eager to stifle the French at every opportunity.
The contest boiled over on the half-hour mark, as Pogba and Palacios were both cautioned after a tangle of arms and legs. Palacios had a couple of nibbles at Pogba, who reacted and could have been shown a red card, but referee Sandro Ricci reserved caution, as Eurosport's Alex Chick highlighted.
Ref makes common sense decision to sending Pogba off. This really is the best World Cup ever...— Alex Chick (@alex_eurosport) June 15, 2014
France kept probing, and the breakthrough came on the stroke of half time. The goal proved to be a double blow for Honduras, as Palacios was shown a red card for the clumsy challenge that felled Pogba in the box.
The Honduras players did their best to put Benzema off, but he kept his cool to slot home from the spot, giving France a 1-0 lead at the half.
Any hopes of a Honduras fightback were snuffed out on 48 minutes, with goal-line technology playing a part.
A brilliant volley from Benzema crashed against the post and bounced across the line. The ball was bouncing away from danger, but it hit Valladares and dribbled over the line.
There was controversy as the big screen in the stadium showed “no goal,” which was for the initial volley, before seconds later “goal” flashed up for the second phase of the incident.
The second goal enabled France coach Didier Deschamps to pull some of his key men from the line of fire. Pogba was withdrawn on 57 minutes, partly to protect his legs for future games and also to avoid any possibility of a second caution.
France kept pressing and Benzema smashed home a fantastic drive into the top of the net on 73 minutes to seal the win.
Superb finish from Benzema. Deschamps deserves credit for standing by him through goals drought #FRA— James Eastham (@james_eastham) June 15, 2014
France can now look ahead to their remaining games in Group E with greater clarity. Les Bleus face Switzerland, who also won their first match, on June 20, followed by a clash with Ecuador on June 25.
One more win will, in all probability, secure qualification, but Deschamps will have his eyes on the top spot in the group.
Note: Ratings based on a 1-10 scale.
|France Player Ratings|
|Player||1st-half Rating||2nd-half Rating|
|Honduras Player Ratings|
|Player||1st-half Rating||2nd-half Rating|
France were impressive and it was a performance that delighted Deschamps.
It was a great start for us, winning the opening match is very important. We played against a team that defended extremely well, even though we did hit the bar twice before Karim Benzema put us ahead from the spot.
After Honduras went down to ten men, the game opened up for us. I thought Karim played particularly well, as did the team as a whole. I went for a mobile front line to avoid getting into an overly physical battle, to stretch their defence and tire them out. It took time, but it worked out in the end.
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