While this was not one of the most eagerly anticipated matches in the Group stage of the World Cup it set up to be an interesting one. Two sides that play a very different style of soccer. Despite the FIFA rankings (which are dodgy to say the least) difference of the two sides Honduras was looking to play a style which would level the playing field, so to speak.
Honduras, who was the definite underdog, has a strong defence and play a very physical brand of soccer. Realistically, though, they are here for the experience and not much is expected of them. France, the favourites, came into the game with a lot of pressure on them to win. Les Bleus was trying to erase the memory of the 2010 World Cup where the French team imploded. They have been winning fans back lately with a good collective attitude and strong play. So far in 2014 things have been going well for the French as they are undefeated so far this year. On the other hand, France has not won a game in their last 4 World Cup matches.
France, who has one World Cup title to their name, would also be trying to win without their wonderful midfielder Franck Ribery, who was out due to an injured back. This is a shame because this World Cup would have been the talented 31-year-old player’s swan song at the World Cup. Even without their leading winger the French are a talented side who would have to count even more on their enigmatic striker, Karim Benzema. Benzema is as talented a striker as there is in the world, but not a consistent one. He seems to only play when he feels like it. To get France to the round of 16 Benzema would have to show some consistency.
Estadio Beira-Rio, the stadium in Porto Alegre, is an impressive one. It has been redeveloped for this World Cup. The pitch was in very good condition. It had been rainy for the past couple of days. The teams contested the match in perfect conditions with there being a slight breeze and not too warm.
Starting off the game new manager Didier Deschamps’, who took over the head coaching duties of France just before the 2012 Euros, side went with a slightly new look 4-3-3. France was wearing their dark blue kit with red socks whereas Honduras was in all white. The majority of the crowd was rooting for the underdog Honduras though there were pockets of French supporters.
As Honduras plays a very aggressive style it was no surprise that the cards came early and often. France’s fullback Patrice Evra got a yellow card for a rash tackle in the 7th minute. While Honduras was not given an early card they did give up 3 consecutive free kicks to the French about 18 yards out on the right side of the field. On the third one came the first scoring chance of the game. In the 14th minute Mathieu Valbuena took the free kick and swung it in front of the Honduran goal. The ball deflected to Blaise Matuidi whose shot deflected off Noel Valladares’ fingers onto the crossbar out for a French corner.
Though they were having a tough time breaking down the physical Honduran defence, France got its second scoring chance less than 10 minutes later. In the 23rd minute Evra crossed the ball into the box from the left hand side. Forward Antoine Greizmann got his head on it. Again the ball hit the crossbar and then bounced harmlessly away.
A couple of minutes later yellow cards were given to Honduras’ Wilson Palacios and France’s Paul Pogba for a clash between the two the involved a stepping on and then a trip. This is worth a mention because in the 43rd minute Palacios had a brain cramp and bodychecked Pogba down in the box. It was an easy call for the Brazilian referee to give him another yellow card which means a red (for having two yellows) and being ejected from the game. Worse than having to go down to 10 players was the fact that the French also were awarded a penalty kick. Benzema took it and made no mistake. In the 45th minute his high shot to the right side of the net had Valladares diving helplessly to his left. France has converted all 10 of its World Cup penalty shots without missing one. This was Benzema’s 7th goal in his last 7 international games. 1-0 France at the end of the 1st half.
Being a man down and trying to come back for the offensively challenged Honduras side proved to be too tall an order. France dominated the rest of the game. France struck again early in the 2nd half. The goal came in the 48th minute and it was Benzema who was involved again though it ended up being an own goal. In the box from the left hand side, Benzema hit the ball with his left foot first time. His shot hit the far post and rolled back along the line towards the Honduran keeper. Bad luck for Valladares as it hit him and just crossed over the line. They had to use the goal line technology for the first time to verify the goal. 2-0 France.
In the 72nd minute Benzema completed his brace and iced the game for France. Defender Mathieu Debuchy took a free kick which was blocked, but the ball fell right to Benzema. He proceeded to roof it from in close with his right foot. His 23rd goal in 67 appearances for his country. 3-0 France. France then whittled away the remaining moments of the game by possessing the ball.
By not scoring Honduras tied a record for futility. That record is 5 straight World Cup games without a goal and they could set a new record in their next game on June 20th against Ecuador. With the win a weight has surely been taken off the French shoulders. A good start for a side who had only won 2 of its last 8 World Cup openers. France’s next game is on the same day against Switzerland and will probably decide first place in Group E.
Officials: Referee – Sandro Ricci (Brazil)
-Goals: 1st Half:
45th minute: France – (pk) Karim Benzema
48th minute: France – (og) Noel Valladares
72nd minute: France – Karim Benzema
-Shots on Goal: France – 10
Honduras – 2
-Corner Kicks: France – 8
-Honduras – 0
-Man of the Match: Karim Benzema – France
-Final Score: France – 3
Honduras – 0