France moved within sight of the knockout stages of the FIFA World Cup after routing Switzerland 5-2 on Friday in Group E play at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, Brazil.
In a magnificent attacking performance, France stormed to a 3-0 lead by half-time and could have had another if Karim Benzema had not missed a penalty. Olivier Giroud opened the scoring with a 17th-minute header before Blaise Matuidi doubled Les Bleus' lead only a minute later. Mathieu Valbuena then finished off a blistering counter in the 40th minute to make it 3-0 at the break.
Les Bleus seemed to ease off after the break but still managed two more goals, via Benzema and Moussa Sissoko to take a 5-0 lead with less than 20 minutes later. Switzerland then pulled back two late goals through Blerim Dzemaili and Granit Xhaka, but the mini-comeback proved little more than consolation for Ottmar Hitzfeld's side.
With the win, France went clear atop Group E with six points and moved onto the verge of qualification for the next round. An Ecuador loss or draw against Honduras later Friday would send Les Bleus into the round of 16.
Once they get there, Didier Deschamps' side could be quite dangerous. After putting eight goals past Jamaica in their final World Cup warmup, France have scored eight goals through two games in Brazil.
Against Switzerland—the seeded team in Group E—Les Bleus boasted outstanding performances all over the pitch, but especially up front. Benzema scored once and set up two more, while Giroud and Valbuena both had a goal and an assist. Coming off the bench, Paul Pogba provided perhaps the assist of the match, a lovely outside-of-the-boot pass that set up Benzema's strike in the second half.
As Bleacher Report contributor Jonathan Johnson noted, France's performance was impressive partly because of the identity of their opponent:
With qualification all but assured thanks to their superior goal differential, France finish the group stage with a game against Ecuador on Wednesday in Rio de Janeiro.
Switzerland, on the other hand, must regroup before facing Honduras on Wednesday. As a slight consolation, the Swiss improved their goal differential—which could be used as a potential tiebreaker after the final round of group matches—with their two late goals.
For all of France's brilliance in the final third, Les Bleus also benefited from an early injury to von Bergen, who left the match in the ninth minute after having his face bloodied by Giroud's boot during an aerial challenge.
Von Bergen was replaced by Philippe Senderos, and France quickly gave Switzerland's makeshift defence look ordinary with two goals in as many minutes.
The opener came in the 17th minute via Giroud, who rose highest to power Valbuena's corner in off Diego Benaglio's hand from 12 yards. Less than a minute later, it was 2-0 as Matuidi slotted in at the near post from Benzema's pass following a Swiss giveaway.
Switzerland were stunned, but Hitzfeld's side nearly hit back in the 27th minute as Xhaka bounced a shot past Hugo Lloris. But Xhaka was ruled offside and France's two-goal lead stood.
Les Bleus had a chance to make it 3-0 soon after as Karim Benzema won a penalty after being tripped by Johan Djourou along the byline. Benzema took the spot-kick a minute later, but his low shot was saved easily by Benaglio. Yohan Cabaye then hit the crossbar with a volley on the rebound.
Switzerland's let-off was brief, though, as France bagged a third goal five minutes before half-time after a blistering counter. Centre-back Raphael Varane started the move after France cleared a corner, freeing Giroud with a long ball down the left. Giroud then played the ball across the face of goal for Valbuena, who slammed in at the back post.
Switzerland tried to find a way back into the match after the break, Haris Seferovic shooting over the bar in the 46th minute. Dzemaili then blasted a long-range effort off target 12 minutes later.
Back at the other end, France were still creating plenty of danger in the final third despite easing off somewhat after half-time. Pogba unlocked Switzerland's defence with a brilliant outside-of-the-foot pass into the box toward Benzema. After the ball evaded Senderos' poor attempt to clear, Benzema finished through Benaglio's legs to make it 4-0.
And they weren't done yet. Two minutes after Xhaka flicked a header wide of France's goal in the 71st minute, Sissoko made it five at the other end. Benzema was the catalyst again, unlocking the Swiss defence with a rolled pass across the edge of the box. With his first touch, Sissoko placed his low shot in at the back post for a 5-0 lead.
It could have been even worse for Switzerland. Valbuena, Matuidi and Benzema all had shots saved in the 76th minute as the French poured forward with style and menace.
With time running down, Switzerland attempted to make an improbable comeback. Dzemaili put his side on the scoresheet in the 81st minute with a free-kick that sneaked under the wall and past Lloris. Xhaka then added another, via a well-timed volley, five minutes later.
The would-be comeback never came together, though, the match instead ending appropriately with yet another French attack. Moments after the referee blew the final whistle, Benzema turned in a brilliant first-time shot from the edge of the box that would have been his team's sixth goal.
It didn't count, though, and France had to remain content with five goals on the day.
|Switzerland Player Ratings|
|Steve von Bergen||5.5||N/A|
|Philippe Senderos (for von Bergen, 9')||5||4.5|
|Blerim Dzemaili (for Behrami, 46')||N/A||7|
|Josip Drmic (for Seferovic, 69')||N/A||5|
|Ratings by B/R UK|
|France Player Ratings|
|Paul Pogba (for Giroud, 63')||N/A||6.5|
|Laurent Koscielny (for Sakho, 66')||N/A||6|
|Antoine Griezmann (for Valbuena, 82')||N/A||6|
|Ratings by B/R UK|
Man-of-the-match Karim Benzema praised France's team dynamic, telling FIFA.com:
We all played well, and we got off to a really good start, continuing where we left off against Honduras and playing as a team. And we really are a team. There’s no sulking; those that start the match and those that come on as subs put in the same level of effort. I feel great, but we need to keep it up, as I can only perform well with the help of my team-mates.
France coach Didier Deschamps called his team's performance "almost perfect," telling FIFA.com:
It was almost absolutely perfect. It was an ideal outing, during which we scored five goals against a good side, won 5-2 and reached six points. We now look forward to the next match. We’ve got a good goal difference, and the third match will decide who finishes top and second in the group. We prepared well for the first two games, and we’ve played in an efficient manner. This is still the first part of the tournament. We need to finish the job against Ecuador, and then we’ll be in a very different kind of competition.
Switzerland coach Ottmar Hitzfeld expressed disappointment, telling FIFA.com:
I’m obviously very disappointed. It was an extremely tough 90 minutes for us. We weren’t able to demonstrate our potential. We started fairly well, but the second goal really hit us hard, and it was difficult to come back from that. We had to push forward and got caught out by their counter-attacks. The players finally reacted with those two goals, but it was too little, too late. We are still hopeful of qualifying, though.