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France takes command of Group E by crushing Switzerland 5-2 in Salvador
Karim Benzema scores again for France and also added two assists
France climbs to six points from two games, three more than Switzerland
Ecuador collects first win in group by beating Honduras 2-1 in Curitiba
France’s history at major tournaments recently suggests no one should be calling “Les Bleus” title contenders at this year’s World Cup just yet but after Friday’s game against Switzerland even the team’s harshest critics must be optimistic.
France crushed Switzerland 5-2 in Salvador and almost booked its spot in the second round with two wins from as many games in Group E. The last time the French went 2-0 to start a World Cup, it won the title on home soil in 1998.
Now that’s a good omen.
Things could still go wrong, however. Look at the European Championships two years ago, when Laurent Blanc led a long unbeaten French side to Poland and Ukraine. Still unbeaten and already qualified for the quarterfinals with a game to spare, France came unstuck in a dead rubber against Sweden and subsequently crumbled against Spain.
The infighting, present in South Africa in 2010, resurfaced.
Current French boss Didier Deschamps – Blanc’s teammate on the World Cup winning squad – is so far managing to keep the side unified and has found a way to unlock striker Karim Benzema.
Benzema netted twice against Honduras in the opening 3-0 victory and scored again against the fragile Swiss, adding two assists. France threatened to score almost every time it went forward.
Striker Olivier Giroud was hoping for a start against the Swiss and Deschamps duly inserted the Arsenal man into the lineup. He repaid his manager with a header in the 17th minute and less than a minute later, the French realistically put the Swiss away as Blaise Matuidi beat keeper Diego Benaglio with a low shot to the near post.
It would have been three had Benzema not seen his penalty saved by Benaglio.
The football was still free flowing and it came as no surprise when Giroud set up Mathieu Valbuena from close range in the 40th minute.
Benzema made it four in the 67th minute before Moussa Sissoko further humbled the Swiss six minutes later.
Two Swiss goals in the final 10 minutes made the score respectable. Blerim Dzemaili beat Hugo Lloris with a low free kick in the 81st minute and Granit Xhaka cut the deficit to three in the 87th.
Those goals could be pivotal for the Swiss given goal difference is the first criteria to separate teams when tied in the standings. Thus, when Benzema had a goal disallowed because the final whistle blew, there was more relief for Switzerland.
Switzerland remains on three points, while Ecuador rose to three and leapfrogged Switzerland on goal difference by later defeating Honduras 2-1.
With both teams realistically needing a win to progress to the next round, the first half between Ecuador and Honduras was messy but delightfully end-to-end in Curitiba.
Enner Valencia spurned a chance early for the South Americans and Honduras celebrated wildly when Carlo Costly scored his team’s first goal at a World Cup in 32 years with a low finish near the edge of the box.
Instead of holding firm, though, Honduras quickly conceded in the 34th minute to reawaken Ecuador. Valencia, Ecuador’s talisman, was the quickest to react at the far post and poked the ball home from a few yards out as he scored in a sixth consecutive game for his country.
Honduras’ burly central defender Victor Bernardez stung the palms of keeper Alexander Dominguez with an impressive long-range free kick just before halftime and Costly’s header struck the bar in stoppage time. The ball went into the net on a rebound, though the officials rightly ruled that Jerry Bengtson used his arm to score.
After the interval, Felipe Caicedo seemed to be fouled by Honduras’ Maynor Figueroa in the box but the referee signaled play to continue. Honduras had another goal disallowed thanks to offside and Valencia soared above the defense to deposit his winning header home from Walter Ayovi’s pinpoint free kick in the 65th.
Costly narrowly missed latching on to a low cross and Figueroa’s shot from distance wasn’t far off but Ecuador hung on.
Although France is in pole position and Honduras needs a minor miracle to advance, nothing officially has been decided in the group.
France plays Ecuador and Switzerland plays Honduras on Wednesday.