Mature France performance sees Honduras off
Didier Deschamps' France side got their FIFA World Cup Group E campaign underway on Sunday with a comfortable 3-0 win over minnows Honduras in Porto Alegre. After three scoreless opening matches since 1998's 3-0 win over South Africa in Marseille, Les Bleus finally put that unwanted record to bed with a mature performance at Estadio Beira-Rio.
Karim Benzema was the key man for the French. He scored twice, played a big role in the other goal -- the World Cup's first to be decided by goal-line technology -- and finally looks ready to deliver on the biggest stage for his country.
The Real Madrid man's two goals -- one a penalty and the other a hammering, angled drive in the second half -- are his first at a major international tournament, and Benzema's newfound confidence with Les Tricolores bodes well for the rest of their South American sojourn.
France were not flattered by their three goals, and in truth, they could and perhaps should have had more. However, the victory appears to signal the end of a series of embarrassing failures at major international tournaments, and the French are now drawing a line under the controversial events of 2010 and the 2012 UEFA European Championship in Ukraine and Poland.
Central to the former debacle was Manchester United's Patrice Evra, but on Sunday the experienced left-back put in a committed and responsible performance that typified the maturity with which Deschamps' players carried themselves through the game. The 33-year-old still polarises opinions because of his ill-fated spell as captain, which ended in acrimonious circumstances following the South African campaign.
However, Evra enjoyed one of his best international performances in recent memory and put his body on the line for his country in a bruising encounter. Although it might not be enough to make people truly forget what happened in Knysna, it will go a long way toward making sure that it is not continually brought up in future.
A number of others players also impressed on the day, with senior figures Blaise Matuidi, Mathieu Valbuena and Mathieu Debuchy all looking as mature as Evra in their performances.
Matuidi was at his irrepressible best and underlined why he is so integral to both Deschamps' team and club side Paris Saint-Germain with a typical all-action performance. Valbuena once again emphasised why he is France's key man and proved a constant nuisance to the Honduran defence, who struggled to deal with his creativity on the right. Meanwhile, Debuchy got forward well -- seizing his chance to contribute by going forward because his lack of defensive duties dictated most of the play.
Admittedly, it was only Honduras -- the weakest team in the group, on paper -- but you can only beat what is put in front of you. Deschamps' players did that thoroughly, and it is to their credit that, despite missing a figure as experienced as Franck Ribery, an inexperienced youngster such as Antoine Griezmannn can slip seamlessly into the team and not look out of his depth.
If there were one or two minor negatives to take from the performance, both stem from this vibrant young team's relative lack of experience.
Paul Pogba was involved in a first-half confrontation with Honduran midfielder Wilson Palacios, who later got sent off for conceding the penalty for a foul on the Juventus man, and lashed out at the Stoke City player after a heavy challenge.
Los Catrachos were extremely physical, verging on violent, and it was alarming to see a player with Palacios' experience seemingly playing to be dismissed. However, Pogba needs to learn to not react when challenged like that, and the 21-year-old can consider himself lucky not to have been shown worse than a yellow card along with the Honduran No. 8.
Also, the central defensive partnership of Mamadou Sakho and Raphael Varane is yet to entirely convince. Although Les Bleus have started their Brazilian campaign with a clean sheet, the young and relatively inexperienced partnership showed a few signs of collective naivete throughout the game, and both were almost punished late. Deschamps could yet recall Laurent Koscielny -- dropped for the clash -- for Friday's crunch clash with Switzerland.
However, Honduras did not have enough quality to pose France many problems on the day, and the one-time winners have bettered their scoring total from the 2010 World Cup in a single game. Now attention will turn to the Swiss, and Deschamps will be keen to keep the current momentum going as confidence in the French camp continues to grow at a rapid pace.