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Jun 14, 2014

France vs. Honduras: 50-50 Challenge

FranceFrance
HondurasHonduras
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Match 10
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A quick inside look at the French squad ahead of their match against Honduras.

Our expert bloggers will give their thoughts ahead of each game, so as France take on Ecuador in Group E, Jonathan Johnson (France) and Arch Bell (Honduras) are your guides.

What's at stake?

Jonathan Johnson: With no previous meetings between the two sides to go on, France's opening clash with Honduras is hugely important for Didier Deschamps' men. A win will settle any early nerves and confidence will continue to grow, while anything less than that will set alarm bells ringing and pile the pressure on.

Les Bleus have won only one of their last nine World Cup group-stage matches and are keen to draw a line under their past failures and controversies. Putting Honduras to bed in a seemingly straightforward contest would be a perfect start.

Arch BellFollowing two subpar outings in World Cup warm-up matches versus Turkey and Israel, Honduras put together a solid defensive performance last week versus England in a 0-0 draw that should serve as the blueprint for Sunday's contest against the French.

Little is expected of Honduras against the 1998 champions, so a point or perhaps even an unprecedented three points in a World Cup match could set the way for a historic march to the knockout round.

X factor

JJ: Karim Benzema needs to deliver in Brazil. The Real Madrid man is now the talisman of this French side and the most experienced member of Deschamps' 23-man squad. Despite that, it is his first World Cup and he has yet to score a single goal at a major international tournament. On paper, Honduras will fear the 26-year-old, and assuming it is the same Benzema we have seen recently for France, they have every reason to. The former Olympique Lyonnais star finally looks ready to replicate his club form with his country, and Honduras is the perfect opening fixture for him.

AB: Carlo Costly. Nomadic and inconsistent at the club level, Costly always seems to bring his best for Honduras, and the hulking striker will be called upon to provide goals for Los Catrachos. Costly has recently been bothered by injuries, but he resumed normal training on Friday, much to the relief of the Honduras faithful. Plus, Costly has a knack for scoring big goals in big arenas, as evidenced by his dramatic tally that led to the Haztecazo against Mexico in the Estadio Azteca last fall in qualifying.

Fear factor

JJ: Andy Najar is an emerging talent, and if played from the start and deployed on the right, the tricky 21-year-old winger will pose a threat to France. The aging Patrice Evra is a potential weakness in the back four and a lot of chances tend to materialise on his left side. Najar, although relatively inexperienced, has the attributes to exploit that.

Carlos Costly and Jerry Bengtson -- Honduras' two most prolific attacking threats -- could also pose Deschamps' men a few potential problems.

AB: Karim Benzema stands as the biggest threat to the Honduras defense. Benzema is coming off a stellar season at the Bernabeu with Real Madrid and his quick movements will put the Catrachos to the test. Benzema's ability to strike from anywhere with his boot or beat a defender to a header will keep the Honduran defense on their toes for the full 90 minutes.

Key battle

JJ: Mathieu Valbuena vs. Emilio Izaguirre. The Olympique de Marseille man is key to Deschamps' side and his teammates need to get him into the game as quickly as possible in Porto Alegre. Celtic's Izaguirre will stand in his way at left-back, although he will have to be aware of the potential for Valbuena and Benzema to switch sides if Les Bleus start with Olivier Giroud sandwiched between the pair as they did in their final warm-up match.

AB: Noel Valladares vs. the French attack. Let's face it: The large majority of this match will be contested in the Honduras half, so it will critical that the 37-year-old Valladares be at his best in goal. Coming off a Torneo Clausura campaign with Olimpia that ended in a championship, the veteran goalkeeper is confident in his abilities and communication with his back four will be crucial to thwarting France's scoring opportunities. Soft goals would be a killer.

Prediction

JJ: France to win 3-0 and make a flying start to the World Cup. Confidence is high in the camp at present and Les Bleus have more than enough quality to win this one comfortably. This opener will set the tone for the rest of the French campaign and Deschamps has called it the "most important" of all the group stage games.

AB: France to win 2-0. There is plenty of optimism within coach Luis Fernando Suarez's squad, and the memories of their Olympic run two years ago that saw them defeat Spain and go toe-to-toe with Brazil are still fresh in the mind. But at the end of the day, France are simply too talented to hold down for 90 minutes. Honduras will be brave, but a result won't be in the cards.

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