Story of the game
A fiercely contested beginning to the match was emphasised by the regularity and brutality of the challenges that the Honduras players were putting in. France had control right from the start really and the primary tactic their opposition employed was to cut off the ball at its source by fouling the player in possession. Valbuena and Griezmann in particular had some joy on the flanks and were either beating their men or winning a free-kick for their troubles. Right from this early stage, you could see that passions were high and the game could flare up into a distasteful affair.
Tempers reached boiling point when Stoke midfielder Wilson Palacios tagged Paul Pogba and when the Frenchman was on the floor, then proceeded to tread on his legs several times. Pogba reacted and lashed out at the Honduran, and the incident was resolved by the referee booking both players, although it could well have been a pair of red cards. Not long after this; in the last minute of first half action, Palacios was again in the thick of it, barging into the back of Paul Pogba in the penalty area just as he was about to pull the trigger. Out came his second yellow of the match and he was given his marching orders. After a significant delay during which Honduras tried every trick in the book to put off the penalty taker, Benzema thumped home the spot kick to make it 1-0 at the interval.
The game continued to be an overly physical affair in the second half as the referee was left little choice but to dish out further cautions. The score-line remained a nervous one while at 1-0 despite the fact that France were never really put under pressure, but this became more comfortable in the 48th minute. Benzema was at the forefront again as his header back across goal came off the post before hitting the Honduran goalkeeper and just about crossing the line. This was the first instance in which the tournament’s goal-line technology had really been required and while a degree of confusion ensued as the replay played on the big screen, the correct decision was reached in the end. Officially, it was given as an own goal by Valladares.
From this point onwards, France cruised towards a comfortable victory with their greatest concern now being not picking up any injuries or unnecessary suspensions as Honduras continued with their questionable tactics. Benzema did grab his second of the game from smart finish into the roof of the net in the 72nd minute. The ball fell to him about 12 yards out on the right of the area after a scrappy deflection and he did not need asking twice, converting powerfully past the despairing grasp of Valladares. France could have had more as the game reached its closing stages, but the match finished at 3-0, signifying a highly satisfactory day at the office for the European side who did nothing to weaken their position as dark horses for the World Cup as a whole.
France: Lloris (capt), Debuchy, Varane, Sakho, Evra, Pogba (Sissoko – 56’), Cabaye (Mavuba 65’), Matuidi, Valbuena (Giroud – 78’), Benzema, Griezmann.
Honduras: Valladares (capt), Beckeles, Bernardez (Chavez – 45’), Figueroa, Izaguirre, Najar (Claros – 58’), W. Palacios, Garrido, Espinoza, Costly, Bengston (Garcia – 45’).
1. Hugo Lloris – 6. Did not have a great deal at all to do for the entire game, but what he was tasked with, he dealt with no problem whatsoever. Crosses were claimed and hung onto at every opportunity which provided the perfect platform for France to spring a counter-attack.
2. Mathieu Debuchy – 6. Solid defensively and often joined in with the attack down the right hand side, he gave a good foil for the tricky Valbuena.
4. Raphael Varane – 7. Calmness personified throughout, he was composed on the ball and did nothing to dispel the proposals that he is the world’s best young defender.
5. Mamadou Sakho – 7. Much improved from the nervy displays of Liverpool’s last few games, he was dominant in the air and didn’t let anyone down in possession.
3. Patrice Evra – 6. His maturity helped in the defence and this made sure that his side did not rise to the aggressive tactics of Honduras. Could have come off during the second half but ran off a knock to stick it out to the end.
19. Paul Pogba – 6. Built up to a high degree in the build up to the tournament, he didn’t exactly match the expectation. Highlights were a little too infrequent and could have plausibly been sent off for an impudent lash out at Wilson Palacios.
6. Yohan Cabaye – 6. He was able to keep possession ticking over nicely from a deeper role, but didn’t massively influence the game and was brought off after picking up a booking.
14. Blaise Matuidi – 7. As usual, he ran all day and harried the Hondurans in possession. A couple of chances came and went but he did look a threat in and around the box.
8. Mathieu Valbuena – 8. Rarely misplaced a pass, and seemed to be able to beat his man at ease. His combination with Benzema seems to be a fluid one.
10. Karim Benzema – 9. Looked a threat wherever he popped up on the pitch, balancing brute strength, poise and neat touches. The scorer of two goals but could easily have had two more, he looks to be in good shape for the rest of the World Cup.
11. Antoine Griezmann – 8. The youngster without a great deal of international experience under his belt did not look fazed at all on the biggest of stages. Very neat and tidy in possession, he saw a couple of clever passes and even hit the bar with a powerful header.
18. Moussa Sissoko – 6. Typically energetic, he was quick to close the Honduras players down and prevent them from building up any kind of rhythm.
12. Rio Mavuba – 6. Kept things tight in the holding midfield area and did not have to exert himself too greatly.
9. Olivier Giroud – 5. Was not given much chance to influence the game, but he didn’t seem razor sharp as he was pushed off the ball from time to time.
18. Noel Valladares – 6. A decent performance in terms of shot-stopping, notably one from Benzema close range, but the command of his area left much to be desired.
21. Brayan Beckeles – 5. Looked better going forward than back, seemingly never wanting to stay on his feet but preferring to dive in.
5. Victor Bernardez – 5. Not the most stable on his feet, he put in a couple of good blocks and challenges before being substituted at half time which was perhaps partly down to a knee injury.
3. Maynor Figueroa – 6. Strong challenges a plenty, he defended well at times but also lunged in foolishly to some challenges.
7. Emilio Izaguirre – 5. Always looked to antagonise the French players rather than concentrate on his own game, and was beaten all ends up by Valbuena too often.
17. Andy Najar – 6. Ran up the wing all day but couldn’t stop the French domination.
19. Luis Garrido – 6. Kept going but there was nothing he could do in the end.
8. Wilson Palacios – 3. Mistimed challenges a plenty and play that bordered on violent, he rightly received his marching orders in the first half and left his team with a mountain to climb.
15. Roger Espinoza – 6. Hard-working as usual but lacked the quality to make any inroads for his team.
13. Carlo Costly – 6. Fed off scraps for the entire 90 minutes but never stopped working. When he did manage to break free of the French attention, he had little to no support and so struggled somewhat.
11. Jerry Bengston – 5. Was withdrawn at half time after not being given much of an opportunity at all in the first half. Nothing of his potential goal-scoring ability was seen before being sacrificed to deal with Palacios’ dismissal.
2. Osman Chavez – 5. Fairly solid at the back but was undone by fast French attacks.
14. Oscar Garcia – 5. Didn’t impact the game greatly, but may have done enough to earn a start in their next match.
20. Jorge Claros – 5. Couldn’t do much to affect proceedings.
Man of the Match
Mathieu Valbuena and Antoine Griezmann were both fantastic for the French in wider areas of the pitch. They kept possession of the ball excellently and were not afraid to take on their man, forcing a corner or a foul. Confidence grew with each passing minute and they were able to supply Benzema with quality passes on a regular basis. The Real Madrid forward was my man of the match, not only for the 2 goals he converted, but also for the general mayhem he frequently caused whenever France approached the Honduran box. Deft touches and clever runs were a common feature and he certainly looks on top of his game, and with Franck Ribéry’s absence from the squad, a fit and firing Benzema is absolutely vital for French aspirations.