France started their 2014 World Cup campaign with an easy 3-0 win over Honduras on Sunday, playing with a man advantage for all of the second half and dominating for the full 90 minutes.
Karim Benzema opened the scoring from the spot just before half-time following an ill-advised bump by Wilson Palacios on Paul Pogba in the box, a challenge that gave the Honduran his second yellow card and an early exit.
Benzema got some help from Honduran goalkeeper Noel Valladares in the second half; his thundering strike crashed into the post, but bounced back off Valladares and over the goal line. It was close, but the new goal-line technology confirmed the ball went in, as shared by World Soccer Talk:
France's second goal eventually was marked as an own goal, but Benzema restored order with 10 minutes left to play, blasting a shot past Valladares from a difficult angle to make it 3-0.
Unsurprisingly, the Real Madrid forward received most of the plaudits after the match. IncrediBale kicked things off:
Football Funnys couldn't help themselves, as it really looked like Benzema had scored a hat-trick in his very first World Cup appearance:
Benzema when he sees that he hasn't been credited with a hat trick pic.twitter.com/o6y2nNefyM— Football Funnys (@FootballFunnys) June 15, 2014
Bleacher Report's Sam Tighe thought the whole French team, including Benzema, looked phenomenal:
And according to 2014 World Cup, the striker might still get his hat-trick after all:
Benzema may be awarded the second goal of the game as well after review. If so, it's a hat-trick!— 2014 World Cup (@TheWorIdCup) June 15, 2014
Le Parisien's Julien Laurens credited a number of other players alongside Benzema:
Very good start for France. 3-0, good performance from the team, very good performance from Valbuena, Benzema (2 goals) and Matuidi.— Julien Laurens (@LaurensJulien) June 15, 2014
Benzema may have stolen the show, but the best player on the pitch was undoubtedly Mathieu Valbuena. The pint-sized winger provided most of France's chances playing on the right wing, and the Honduran players got so sick of him darting past them that they resorted to a number of cynical fouls.
The Times' James Gheerbrant was so impressed that, like many, he had to make a joke about the player's stature:
FourFourTwo's Lucas Swain agreed that Valbuena was the real star, even though much of the attention went to Benzema:
Valbuena has been magnificent tonight. Benzema been a star in front of goal, but Valbuena's importance shouldn't go unnoticed.— Lucas Swain (@BundesligaLucas) June 15, 2014
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Valbuena's game was his ability to keep getting up after hard fouls, as shared by Bleacher Report's Jonathan Johnson:
Valbuena taken out by crunching tackle. Some of this has been absolutely disgraceful from Honduras. France FK after 72 minutes.— Jonathan Johnson (@Jon_LeGossip) June 15, 2014
Just how good was Valbuena against Honduras? Ask ESPN Stats & Info:
France's Matheiu Valbuena had 4 chances created. The entire Honduras team had just 2 #FRAvsHON— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 15, 2014
France couldn't have asked for a better start to the 2014 World Cup, with the only worries being the yellow card for Pogba and a possible injury for Patrice Evra. The full-back had to leave the pitch for treatment, but he was able to return to the pitch and looked like he was okay.
Les Bleus' main opponents for the top spot in Group E are Switzerland, who failed to convince against Ecuador but were able to come away with a 2-1 win, thanks to a very late goal from Haris Seferovic.
The Swiss are coached by Ottmar Hitzfeld, one of the greatest tactical minds in all of football, and he will make sure his team put together a better performance against France.
That said, the French looked comfortable against a very physical Honduran side, and they should be favourites in a head-to-head matchup against the Swiss.
Finishing at the top of their group is vital for either team, with the runner-up looking at a likely date with tournament favourites Argentina in the next round.