Three Points: France upend Honduras
Three thoughts on France's 3-0 win over 10-man Honduras in Porto Alegre:
1. French feel-good factor continues
After 16 years, France's wait for a win in their opening game of a World Cup is over. Just like Sunday's victory over Honduras in Porto Alegre, the last one -- all the way back in 1998 -- also finished 3-0 (vs. South Africa in Marseille).
France coach Didier Deschamps captained that side and had spent the week impressing on his players how much of a confidence booster a win in a curtain raiser can be. Rather than make a false start, France are on the front foot and gathering more momentum on the back of the impressive performances they put in during the warm-ups, hammering Norway 4-0 and obliterating Jamaica 8-0.
Karim Benzema picked up where he left off against Jamaica and scored another brace in his first appearance in a World Cup. It's remarkable to think that in October he had gone 1,222 minutes without finding the back of the net for France. Since then, the Champions League-winning Real Madrid striker has hit seven.
Although France broke the deadlock only after Honduras were reduced to 10 men, some of their combination play in forward positions before then was encouraging. The diminutive Mathieu Valbuena again impressed on the right. So too did Antoine Griezmann on the other side. Preferred to Olivier Giroud as Benzema returned to the centre of France's attack, he hit the woodwork, as did Blaise Matuidi.
The defence risked little. Mamadou Sakho and Raphael Varane, who was included ahead of Laurent Koscielny, weren't particularly tested but still looked assured when called into action.
As the youngest French team since 1998, there is plenty of promise ahead of Friday's clash with Switzerland in Salvador, a possibly decisive game for which team might go through as group winner and against a team they haven't beaten in a decade.
2. A goal for goal-line technology
After seeing goal-line technology used unnecessarily on several occasions so far in its debut outing in a World Cup, finally we had the kind of incident it was introduced to clear up.
Shortly after the break, Yohan Cabaye found Benzema in the area. The France striker struck a left-footed shot back across goal. The ball hit the post, came back again and rebounded off Honduras goalkeeper Noel Valladares, who failed to keep it out.
The first decision, shown on the TV screens to the fans, ruled it no goal. That, though, was for Benzema's shot, which hit the post and wasn't going in until Valladares' intervention.
A second, which factored in Valladares' part, was then relayed, correctly clarifying that the ball had indeed crossed the line, and it was deemed a goal -- despite the howling protests of the confused Honduras fans.
Making the right call on that with the naked eye in real time would have been difficult. And that's the story of how Valladares surpassed Andoni Zubizarreta to become the oldest player to score an own goal in World Cup history.
3. Honduran School of Hard Knocks
When it was put to Luis Fernando Suarez in his prematch news conference that the "H" on Honduras' shirts stands for Hard Knocks, he tried to make the case that they aren't that kind of team. No red cards in 16 games was the supporting evidence he offered. "We play by the rules," he said. Prison rules, perhaps.
Some of the challenges Honduras put in were reckless, and it wasn't surprising when Wilson Palacios was given his marching orders before the interval. Not content with running his studs down one of Paul Pogba's ankles, he did the other one for good measure.
Pogba reacted a little like David Beckham did to the provocations of Diego Simeone in Saint-Etienne in 1998, and both could perhaps have received red cards. Instead, referee Sandro Ricci handed out cautions. Not that Palacios heeded his warning. He barged Pogba over in the box, gave the penalty away from which Benzema scored and went for a deserved early bath.
As much as everyone likes a villain, this World Cup has already suffered far too many casualties to have a begrudging respect for Honduras' roughhouse style of play. If they are not careful, the only mark they will leave on this competition will be the cuts and bruises on their opponents.