Palacios ensures France have it easy
Benzema inspires after Honduras midfielder sent off in first half
The painful memories of South Africa will soon begin to fade if this is a sign of things to come from Didier Deschamps and his players. Inspired by Karim Benzema, who was left out of the squad that created such a furore at the World Cup four years ago, France got off to the perfect start in Brazil with a comfortable victory over a Honduras side that did nothing to alter their reputation for playing ugly.
Already well on top, France never looked back from the moment that Benzema converted from the spot just before the interval, after Wilson Palacios had picked up a second yellow card for a moment of stupidity. Palacios’s clumsy, premeditated foul on Paul Pogba, with whom he had clashed earlier in the first half, was going to result only in one outcome and left Honduras facing an exercise in damage limitation.
For France, who had far too much class for limited opponents, it was a matter of how much they wanted to twist the knife in the second half. With Yohan Cayabe influential in the centre of midfield, Les Bleus continued to dominate and added a second in the 48th minute when Benzema’s shot came back off the upright and Noel Valladares, the Honduras goalkeeper, pushed the rebound over the line.
France, however, were far from finished. Valladares denied Benzema at point-blank range but he was helpless to prevent the Real Madrid striker from added his second of the night 18 minutes from time. Reacting quickly after Mathieu Debuchy’s shot had deflected into his path, Benzema thumped a vicious angled drive into the far corner of the net. It was his eighth goal in his last seven games for his country and completed a highly satisfactory evening for the French.
This game always had the potential to be feisty. The pre-match buildup had been dominated with talk about Honduras’s physical approach, on the back of their goalless draw with England in Miami, when Steven Gerrard complained about some “horrific” challenges. Luis Fernando Suárez had protested that Honduras “can’t be called a violent team” but the manager’s words had a hollow ring to them inside the opening 45 minutes here.
The match was stop-start and already riddled with fouls when Paul Pogba and Palacios tangled midway inside the Honduras half, prompting a melee and a couple of yellow cards that was a sign of things to come. When the two players fell to the ground, Palacios appeared to stamp on Pogba, prompting an angry reaction from the Frenchman, who kicked out at the Honduras midfielder. While Pogba’s frustration was understandable, he could count himself a little fortunate that Sandro Ricci, the Brazilian referee, took a lenient view of an act of retaliation.
Palacios hardly covered himself in glory with the way that he stayed on the ground and there was a sense that the feud might not have come to an end. So it proved later in the half, when the Stoke City midfielder picked up a second yellow card for a ridiculous foul on Pogba that smacked of retribution. Barging Pogba in the back as the Juventus midfielder tried to take Cabaye’s cross on his chest, Palacios left the referee with no option but to send him off and point to the spot. Benzema calmly dispatched his spot-kick, sending Noel Valladares the wrong way.
In truth, the goal was no more than France deserved. After a slightly nervous opening, Deschamps’s side grew in confidence and started to take control of the game, moving the ball around with assurance and opening Honduras up.. Blaise Matuidi had come close in the 16th minute when his left-footed shot was superbly turned on to the crossbar by Vallarares. Moments later the lively Antoine Griezmann climbed above Maynor Figueroa at the back post and nodded Patrice Evra’s cross against the bar.
Honduras had offered little in response and the game was effectively put beyond them three minutes into the second half, albeit in rather bizarre circumstances. Yohan Cabaye’s cross picked out Benzema in space in the penalty area and the Real Madrid striker struck a left-footed volley that cannoned off the upright, with the ball flashing across to the other side of the goal and trickling over the line after Valladares had tried but failed to keep it out.
The goal was initially given and Benzema wheeled away to celebrate only for a “no goal” message to appear on the huge screen in the stadium. The Honduras players surrounded the referee, bitterly complained and for a period confusion reigned. The message, however, had appeared in relation to Benzema’s shot that hit the woodwork and not the moment when Valladares inadvertently pushed the ball the wrong side of the goalline. Ultimately the technology got it right, highlighting that Vallarares had scored an own goal, although it was a strange episode.