France 3 Honduras 0 match report: Karim Benzema scores twice as France overcome 10-man Honduras

Stoke City midfielder Wilson Palacios was dismissed in the 43rd minute

The conspiracy theorists in the French camp will tell you the Hondurans tried to use every available technology to win their Group E opener. They will say that the group who deployed a drone plane to fly over last Tuesday’s training sessions – France manager Didier Descamps has officially complained to Fifa about it – was also responsible for disabling PA system, which prevented the national anthems being played before the match. The prospect of starting the tournament without La Marseillaise to swell French spirits was certainly not part of the French script.

But there was poetic justice in that it was the Hondurans who found that science let them down. To the naked eye, their goalkeeper seemed to have scrambled a ball away from the goal-line in the second half, though goal-line technology – being used for the first time in a World Cup – rightly ruled otherwise.

Their complaints about that ran out long and loud into the night, but they were an irrelevance. A World Cup which has provided a feast of goals and talent delivered up its most lamentable finalists last night: a team who sought to make up in aggression what they lacked in ability. It was not a pretty sight but the French came through with ease, commanding 63 per cent of possession, with 18shots on goal to their opponents’ four. The quality of France’s football suggested England face a challenge even meeting the top European standard across the next three weeks.

The Hondurans did not need a national anthem. Half their eight million population seemed to have travelled south through the Caribbean Sea to judge by the noise that made this seem a long way from home for the French.

But there was no drowning out the French talent. Their superiority was evident from the start of a first half which was a story of princes versus partisans. The prince among princes was Olympique Marseille’s Mathieu Valbuena.

He seems to stand in the vast shadow created by the new French prodigy Paul Pogba, but Valbuena exposed Honduras’ inferior skillset sublimely with his touch, vision, running and strikes of the dead ball.

Everyone was being diplomatic about the Hondurans’ reputation for what one documentary made by French network Canal+ had described in the build up to this game as “violence”.

 

The French manager Didier Deschamps did go so far as to say “they have an aggressive team” – a fact apparent to Roy Hodgson’s England squad when they played them in Miami – and the Honduras head coach Luis Fernando Suarez declared in his team’s defence that they had incurred no red cards in 16 World Cup qualifiers.

But the one-man war on the pitch, instigated by their captain Wilson Palacios – still the best Honduran player by a distance, despite his struggles to progress at Tottenham Hotspur and Stoke City – made it obvious that roughing up the French was a part of the game plan.

The 21-year Pogba, no push over, gave as good as he had got from Palacios, but after one tit-for-tat exchange the Honduran stamped on Pogba’s leg and he was shown the yellow card. If the plan was also to provoke Pogba into an act of retaliation then it almost worked. Indeed, Pogba might have got a straight red for swinging out a leg at Palacios – as David Beckham did for his foul on Diego Simeone when playing for England against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup. But instead it was Palacios who was sent off, for barging into Pogba in the penalty area in the 43rd minute. He really could have no complaints.

Karim Benzema increased the level of “Benzemania” which France is awash with by calmly despatching the ensuing penalty and confirming his nation’s status as expert spot-kick takers. They have put away a record 10 out of 10 penalties in World Cups, not including shoot-outs.

For all their supremacy, the goal was needed to ease growing French anxiety.

The Honduras goalkeeper Noel Valladares had been at the hub of a doughty rearguard action.

He tipped a Blaise Matuidi half volley onto the crossbar – the best of a sequence of saves – though needed the same piece of woodwork to save him when Antoine Griezmann rose to get his head on Patrice Evra’s cross.

There was even more controversy about the goal which took the game beyond doubt. Yohan Cabaye drilled a fine ball into the penalty area for Benzema to chase. He thumped an angled volley across which rebounded off the right-hand post, hit the back of Honduras keeper Valladares, who in his scramble to place a hand around it managed only to send it over the goalline. The delay in the goalline technology verdict caused confusion and left the Hondurans agitated when it showed that Valladares had, indeed, helped the ball over the line. Even Deschamps complained, seemingly unhappy that the referee had added to the confusion by initially not waiting for the verdict.

Still the Hondurans kept developing their reputation as the Sunday league team of this group stage. Hull City’s Maynor Figueroa hacked through the back of Valbuena. And still the French kept attacking in a way which allowed them to announce themselves as potentially one of the big forces of this tournament.

The game was 72 minutes old when a Mathieu Debuchy piledriver was blocked in the six-yard area, falling to the striker Benzema, who raked it into the roof of the net from a tight angle.

Pogba, whose temperament looks like the aspect of his game he most needs to work on, was substituted just before the hour. Luis Garrido then went into the book for a horrible studs-up tackle on Matuidi. 

With Switzerland and Ecuador to play, France’s progression to the last-16 seems a foregone conclusion and the prospect of putting the divisions of the past four years behind is a strong one.

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