Honduras hostility does nothing to faze France in Group E
Official match statistics say France, odds-on 4/9 favourites with Coral to top Group E, had as many players booked as, and committed one less foul than, Honduras in a handsome 3-0 Les Bleus victory. It’s fair to say Brazilian referee Sandro Ricci did his bit to keep the spotlight firmly on officiating at the World Cup here.
Paul Pogba could’ve joined Wilson Palacios in having an early bath in the first half following their spat, while Luis Garrido’s ludicrously high foot on Blaise Matuidi was subsequently dealt with leniently.
England got a rude awakening when Honduran physicality reared its ugly head in a warm-up friendly, but the fact the Central Americans continued to conduct themselves in a similar vein at the Brazil finals is worrying.
Happily for Didier Deschamps, though, the assault is over with a resurgent Karim Benzema (now 9/2 joint-favourite to be World Cup top scorer) doing the kind of damage which is permitted within the laws of the game. The Real Madrid frontman had a hand in all three French goals, striking twice and rattling the post an instant before Noel Valladares spilled the rebound into his own net.
That technology everyone’s been banging on about for years was finally of use here, first highlighting the Benzema effort did not cross the line, but then confirming Valladares failed to keep it out. If only a German firm had invented it 50 years earlier…
Palacios typified a combative approach from Honduras that looked to be an homage to the Don Revie era. Their 4-4-2 set-up was equally outdated, as a progressive French 4-3-3, with dynamic midfielders and wingers willing to swap flanks, was better in every aspect.
Mathieu Valbuena and Antoine Griezmann will be attracting Premier League interest off the back of their performances here. The former looks set to leave Marseille after eight years of loyal service and, because of his diminutive stature and skilful ball retention, has a touch of Ludovic Giuly about him.
Basque winger Griezmann, meanwhile, showed equally sureness of touch and a willingness to take on Honduran full backs, whose interest in taking the ball seemed secondary. Arsenal would certainly appreciate these silky skills, while Valbuena would make an ideal and, more importantly, mature replacement for compatriot Hatem Ben Arfa at Newcastle.
Sticking with names the Toon Army will recognise, Yohan Cabaye gave Magpies fans a reminder of what they’re missing nowadays with an assured playmaking performance. Fellow Les Bleus midfielder Blaise Matuidi, meanwhile, was energetic in the engine room as billed.
It’s often been noted that Sir Alex Ferguson let Pogba slip through the net at Manchester United. A Golden Boy award, given to the best young player in Europe, in 2013 and winning a penalty from Palacios here are evidence supporting that argument. The earlier coming together, where Pogba clearly kicked out at his assailant, suggests a flaw in his temperament.
Moving on to Switzerland’s earlier encounter with Ecuador, the sixth seeds (no it’s not a typing error, the Swiss really are ranked that high according to FIFA) snatched all three points at the death.
Wily coach Ottmar Hitzfeld made perfect substitutions, as both Admir Mehmedi and Haris Seferovic made a decisive impact off the bench after the break, ensuring the Confederation came from behind. Enner Valencia had given Ecuador the lead midway through the first half.
Plaudits go to Switzerland’s German gaffer, who retires from management after the World Cup, but it should escape notice that the assists came from left back Ricardo Rodriguez. Keeping former Spurs player Reto Ziegler out of the XI, he outshone other supporting cast members Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka, both linked with Premier League switches.
Hitzfeld opted for Johan Djourou in central defence, rather than set piece presence Fabian Schar. The ex-Arsenal centre back was culpable for Ecuador’s opener, ironically enough from a free kick; nonetheless, the Swiss won and are now heavily odds-on at 1/9 to advance to the kncokout phase.
Ecuador were elegant enough themselves, with Jefferson Montero and Walter Ayovi a noticeable threat down the left. The latter, despite ageing legs, made Enner Valencia’s goal with a dead ball delivery.
All other South American sides with the exception of Uruguay have won in Brazil, but it there is still hope for El Tri and Antonio Valencia. A draw between France and Switzerland (9/4) could bring them back into contention for qualification to the knockout phase. It’s 4/1 Ecuador sneak through.