France began their World Cup qualifying campaign against unheralded but not to be underestimated Honduras. Despite their talent in all areas, France still have to deal with going through the tournament without their talisman, Franck Ribery. In the end, Ribery was not needed and was barely mentioned as France put on a fantastic performance, despite Honduras succumbing to not only playing with 10-men behind the ball all evening, but more Rugby than Football.
A brace from Karim Benzema, an own-goal by Noel Vallagares, two hits on the woodwork and an attacking display that left many purring by Les Blues surely did much to dampen the embarrassing memories of the debacle that was 2010. Honduras were poor on the day, but it was still up to France to play their football and put in a required performance – as stated, they did not disappoint.
France: Hugo Lloris; Patrice Evra, Raphael Varane, Mamadou Sakho, Mathieu Debuchy; Yohan Cabaye, Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi; Antoine Griezmann, Karim Benzema, Mathieu Valbuena
Honduras: Noel Valladares; Emilio Izaguirre, Maynor Figueroa, Brayan Beckeles, Victor Bernardez, Andy Najar; Roger Espinoza, Wilson Palacios, Luis Garrido; Jerry Bengtson, Carlos Costly
The opening exchanges of the first half set the tone of the match to no one’s surprise – France would possess the ball and look to dictate play, while Honduras were completely unafraid to work hard, get stuck in, be physical and then try to quickly counter once they gained possession. The match started rather slowly and uneventful, but it would liven up in the 15th minute. Mathieu Valbuena’s set-piece delivery into the box (his third in five minutes from identical positions) was poorly cleared and at the feet of Blaise Matuidi – his resulting effort was tipped by Noel Valladares and crashed off the post, with the resulting corner not coming to much.
Despite all their ability on the ball and the gifted players in their XI on the day, France seemed rather content with just crossing the ball into the area from the right side channel via Valbuena, and if you’re Honduras, you will gladly take that and clear your box when called upon. France would however come close again in the 22nd minute through Antoine Griezmann when his effort came crashing off the frame of the goal from close range after the ball from Patrice Evra was pumped into the box yet again. France sprang to life a bit further two minutes later when Valbuena was put into space on the right by a fantastic ball from Griezmann and his cross would find Benzema would the Real Madrid striker could only head over the bar.
It is completely understandable for Honduras to sit back and defend in a bunker and force France to break them down. However, when they did look to break quickly, their overall lack of quality came to the fore and they were sloppy technically. Despite being frustrated, France were sitting quite comfortable. The 42nd minute would throw the match completely into French hands however. After a ball was played to Pogba in the box, Wilson Palacios barreled into the back of the Juventus midfielder, taking him down in the box and giving a penalty to France – in the process, Palacios was sent off for his second bookable offense. With the half looming, France had their breakthrough when Benzema converted the spot-kick cool as a cucumber. 1-0 France, and they were quite relieved indeed.
The half would end 1-0, but with France hitting woodwork twice before, they could easily be up 3-0 and have the man advantage. Honduras defended decently enough, but have offered nothing at all by way of a counter-attacking display that would keep France concerned. It could have been worse for Honduras, but it was about to in the second-half.
Honduras started the second-half by immediately making two changes before play resumed; Oscar Garcia and Osman Chavez came on for Jerry Bengtson and Victor Bernardez. Those changes would have no time at all to take shape however, when Yohan Cabaye played a delicious through ball to Benzema who sweetly slotted past Valladares with a one-time half volley with his left foot – his effort would come crashing off the post towards Valladares who inadvertently put it into his own net. 2-0 France inside 50 minutes for Les Blues. Normal service had been resumed, and the French were not finished just yet. Soon after, another fine ball from Griezmann found Benzema in the box, but his effort on the half-volley from close range was only right at Valledares.
The 65th minute saw Cabaye removed for Rio Mavuba. Cabaye, like Pogba (who was removed earlier), was sitting on a yellow card and Didier Deschamps did not want to risk a further booking to such a key player. It must be said however, that Cabaye was very good on the day. Still and yet, France remained ever so comfortable and on 72minutes that comfort level would only increase. France earned another free-kick from the right side and this time Valbuena laid it off to Debuchy who was lurking at the top of the box – his thunderous half volley crashed into a Honduran player but kindly fell for Benzema, who made no mistake as he smashed it past Valladares high at the near post. 3-0 France, Benzema was on a brace and he and France looked good value for more.
Valbuena, who was fantastic all night, would be taken off int he 77th minute for Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud – France was surely going for more here. French dominance would continue for the remainder of the second half, though they were unable to find a fourth in the end. It was mission accomplished however, with three points under lock and key to begin their tournament and hopefully avoid a round-of-16 face-off with Argentina.
Man of the Match
Karim Benzema – Was simply outstanding. Two goals, had a third ruled as an own-goal and was fantastic in the box all night. France have a ton of creative players behind him, and if Benzema can keep this level of play up for the duration of the tournament, you may be able to bet on France making a run deep into the later stages. He has a lot to live up to when it comes to being the number one striker for France, but he has shown at Real Madrid and Olympique Lyonnais before that, that he has the quality to fire Les Blues to a much higher standard than the previous summer.
Player ratings for France
Lloris – 7.0: Wasn’t called on to do much of anything and was largely a spectator. 7.0 is generous, but why not.
Evra – 7.5: Very good going forward and delivered some fantastic balls into the box all match long. Defensively responsible on the night as well, but not difficult to do so.
Sakho – 7.0: The same as Varane and maybe even a little more so. Unsure if he will remain in the XI with Koscielny in the side, but he did well.
Varane – 7.0: Calm and collected when called upon, which wasn’t very often either. Honduras tried to be physical but he responded in kind.
Debuchy – 7.5: Identical performance to Evra and it yielded the same positive results despite questions on his fitness.
Cabaye – 7.5: He was very good on the day. Lively in the middle, put in an excellent shift and his distribution as expected was fantastic. On another day he gets himself an assist at least.
Matuidi – 8.0: A very accomplished performance from him on both sides of the ball. Did very well getting forward in the final third and maybe should have had a goal himself.
Pogba – 6.5: He was decent enough, but did not have the commanding performance many expected. Did play a couple very nice balls to Benzema, as well as drawing the penalty.
Griezmann – 8.5: Did an excellent job making people forget Ribery was not there. His service was fantastic and even had a header crash off the bar himself.
Benzema – 9.0: So many question if Benzema is world class or not, but he responded with a brilliant his performance tonight. Two goals and always looked good value for a third.
Valbuena – 8.5: Fantastic from the off until he was subbed out. Was magnificent down the right and the key offensive catalyst for the French. Many don’t rate him, but this proves they should.
Sissoko – 6.0: Came on for Pogba and was decent enough, but not more than average.
Mavuba – 6.0: Much the same as Sissoko, Mavuba didn’t do much once coming on (in his case for Pogba), but at that point, nothing left to do.
Giroud – 6.0: Had about 12 minutes on the pitch and really had no time to put his foot stamp on the match.
Player ratings for Honduras
Valladares – 4.0: Scored an own-goal and didn’t really play well on the whole in truth.
Izaguirre – 6.0: Was pretty decent on the whole and worked his socks off, but needed to do better to shut down Valbuena.
Figueroa – 5.5: Not the usual stuff we have become accustomed to seeing from him in the Premier League, but this was never going to be easy.
Beckeles – 4.5: Just…nothing really was there…but powerless to stop the French onslaught.
Bernardez – 5.5: Below average in defense, and certainly had a hard time picking up runs into the box by Benzema and others.
Najar – 6.0: He worked hard and had one or two chances to express himself in the final third but was kept quiet. He did get through the match decently enough.
Espinoza – 6.0: He worked quite hard and put in a decent showing for himself, at that point, that’s all he could have expected.
Palacios – 3.5: Two yellows, sent off, and brought Benzema down in the box which led to France’s opener. His physical presence is key, but this was a very poor showing of it.
Garrido – 5.0: Really not much to say about him – he’s in or around the same as the majority of his team mates. Nothing was there.
Bengtson – 5.0: Did very little all match in truth, but that is not his fault. Had no service, but when he did get the ball, was slow and lacked any sort of belief.
Costly – 5.0: The same as Bengtson, had very little service at all, but when he did get it, did not do enough to make a nuisance of himself.
Chavez – 5.0: Thrust into the fray in the second half after France had the match by the scruff of the neck – nothing could be done.
O.Garcia – 5.0: Much to the tone of the man he replaced, he was not able to do anything simply because he was never given the opportunity to.
Claros – 5.0: He was not up to the grade of who he came on for, but again, coming into a match that is already virtually over, not much more can be expected.