FINAL: France 3, Honduras 0
The French won its first World Cup match in eight years, dominating Honduras 3-0 on Sunday afternoon. Karim Benzema scored twice, and should have probably been credited with a third goal after his shot deflected off the keeper and eventually crossed the line.
For the first time in history, FIFA technology confirmed the goal, although who it should be attributed to remains in question. Officially, Honduran keeper Noel Valladares scored an own goal, but it can certainly be debated.
The score, however, cannot.
Les Bleus dominated from the outset, however it was only after a late first-half penalty that the score could validate their success. Paul Pogba was shoved in the box, drawing a penalty that Benzema eventually buried. The penalty was even more costly since it drew a second yellow for Wilson Palacios, earning him the boot.
If the Hondurans couldn't score with 11 men -- they could barely even earn a shot -- they certainly weren't going to do it with just ten men.
Just two minutes into the second half, Benzema knocked in the controversial goal that all but took Honduras out of the game. Benzema one-timed the ball with his left foot into the right goal post, but it didn't cross the line. It careened off the post and eventually trickled in off Valladares.
He would later add another top-shelf-style to raise the hat trick questions.
From a bigger perspective, France's win was a massive confidence booster, especially after the disastrous showing in 2010. It has set itself up to win Group E.
90' -- Three minutes of extra time.
87' -- Wait, scratch that. France wants more. Evra with another beautiful cross to Griezmann, but a Honduran defender was draped all over him. Three goals should suffice, especially given that Switzerland only won its game by one.
84' -- A number of hard, needless challenges to close this one out. Both teams (should be) hoping to avoid any injuries. That being said, Honduras may have deserved a late penalty but the referees weren't having it. France, with a three-goal lead, looks content to knock it around and kill time.
79' -- Honduran strikers Carlo Costly and Jerry Bengtson have been non-factors all game, probably because the ball was in their half about (approximately) six percent of the time.
4:35 p.m. ET: Benzema (seven shots on goal today) drilled France's third goal from an almost inconceivable angle --
72' -- Patrice Evra is taken off. Not clear what exactly happened (perhaps on Benzema's rebound) but not too sure. Would bet he'd still be on if France didn't have a three-goal lead.
71' -- GOAL!!! BENZEMA AGAIN!! He takes a rebound from the far right side and blasts it into the upper right corner. It should be his third goal, but FIFA will tell you otherwise. I'll call it a hat trick.
70' -- Valbuena down after another hard challenge from Figueroa. The level of play has gotten exceedingly physical.
67' -- Honduran strikers Roger Espinoza and Boniek Garcia look exhausted, although Garcia just took a shot on goal near the six. It's easily Honduras' best chance today -- and Garcia didn't even have an angle.
65' -- Cabaye (he picked up early yellow card) subs out for Rio Mavuba. France doesn't want any of its players ineligible for its next game vs. Switzerland.
63' -- Beautiful build-up from Benzema to Evra to Matuidi, who barely misses the left post. Honduras is hanging on for dear life.
61' -- Broadcast makes good point in that the rest of this match should be about avoiding injuries while trying to improve goal differential for Les Bleus. The top finisher in Group E would likely avoid Argentina in the knockout rounds.
4:19 p.m. ET: Benzema's second goal barely made it over the line.
This angle is misleading because goal posts are not straight up. Use the line. Looks like a goal. pic.twitter.com/UO6o7tiKBT— Cork Gaines (@CorkGaines) June 15, 2014
56' -- All-world talent Paul Pogba (yellow card) is coming out for Moussa Sissoko in the midfield.
55' -- Benzema ALMOST knocks in his third goal, but a beautiful point-blank save keeps him clear. It seems as if it's going to be downhill from here for the French.
4:12 p.m. ET: I'm going to attribute that goal to Benzema. So, in that vein, here's Benzema's second goal:
48' -- Ok, goal is "officially" given to Valladares, the Honduran keeper. The ball technically bounced off him before crossing the line, but, c'mon now. That was all Karim.
47' -- GOAL!!! BENZEMA WITH ANOTHER!! He takes a cross and one touches it with his left foot back across the goal mouth. It hits the right post, deflects back and off the goalie and finally lands into the net. FIFA's goal line technology confirmed the score.
47' -- Second half starts with a hard challenge on French winger Valbuena, who took a shot to the foot. Again, the ball hasn't entered Honduras' attacking side.
HALFTIME: France 1, Honduras 0 -- France carries a one goal lead into half after Pogba drew a late penalty. It could easily be a three or a four-goal deficit for the Hondurans but its defense hasn't wilted. If your France, you'd love to see a regulation goal instead of a penalty (which was the correct call, I might add) but you'll, of course, take the lead. Les Bleus had numerous chances, including a couple off the crossbar, but Pogba and Antoine Griezmann couldn't finish.
It's absolutely an uphill battle for Honduras as they didn't take a realistic shot on goal in the first half. And now they're playing with only 10 men after Palacios earned two yellows to get sent off. Expect a few more from the French side before this game is over.
45' -- To recap, Pogba drew the penalty that was eventually buried by Benzema ... and now Honduras only has ten men. And Wilson Palacios was one of the Hondurans' best at possessing the ball. Silver lining is that three French players now have yellows. We'll see if it evens up.
44' -- GOAL!!! FRANCE! Les Bleus take the lead as Benzema buries the PK.
42' -- Penalty to France. Wilson Palacios draws a second yellow card, and he's gone. Penalty kick upcoming as Pogba gets taken down in the box. Looks like Benzema will take the PK.
41' -- Bernardez down in the box as he's defending against Pogba but play continues and Benzema's shot is eventually blocked. Honduras is furious that play wasn't stopped. Corner coming.
38' -- Honduras' best chance comes from poor giveaway from the French side in the back. Former MLSer Andy Najar tries to cross it, but Les Bleus have the numbers in the back. Nothing too dangerous at all.
35' -- The danger for Honduras is that on the few chances it has had on offense, the team presses so far up that it's susceptible to the counter-attack. Eventually, France is going to take advantage.
3:32 p.m. ET: The late challenge on Pogba that caused the early skirmish --
31' -- A hard but clean tackle from Beckeles and the Hondurans' backline isn't breaking. Bending? Yes. Breaking? Not yet, much to France's displeasure.
29' -- According to the broadcast, the possession favors France 63-37. It seems more lobsided than that, frankly. France has also taken 8 shots compared to zero for the Hondurans.
27' -- Keep in mind that with each skirmish, that clock keeps ticking. Expect more of the same from the Hondurans.
26' -- Things getting extremely testy as Palacios and Pogba are both on the ground and the teams are pushing one another. It started with a late challenge from Palacios, who then stepped on Pogba's leg. Both players earn yellows.
24' -- BREAKING: Honduras got the ball into the French zone. Did they get a shot off? Uhhh, no.
23' -- Another shot off the woodwork for France as Griezmann nearly headed in the first goal. Danger averted ... for now.
3:20 p.m. ET: Here's how close France was to taking an early lead. Nice placement from Matuidi --
19' -- Palacios down for a bit after he took a foot to the left leg, but he appears OK. Probably served to give his defense a rest as much as it did allow him time to recover.
17' -- A little more than a third of the way through the first half and this is utter domination, but the French still have nothing to show for it. Two huge saves from Valladares have kept the clean sheet.
14' -- Matuidi nearly gives France a one-goal lead (off another service from Valbuena) but his shot is deflected into the cross bar and out of bounds for a corner. How long can Honduras' defense withstand this barrage?
11' -- Honduras keeper Valladares with a goal-saving deflection off another set piece. The French attack has been absolutely relentless. The ball has been on the Hondurans' side 80 percent of the time.
9' -- France is picking on the Hondurans' left flank with solid runs out of the back from Valbuena and Debuchy. So far it's yielded nothing more than a few lofted crosses. Going to need some more pace to put one home.
7' -- Evra with a bad challenge and he picks up a quick yellow.
5' -- Have to love the pace that France has shown thus far. Paul Pogba is one of the best up-and-coming midfielders in the world. If you don't know who he is, just look for France's primary playmaker in the midfield. He'll probably have the ball.
3' -- Benzema, no surprise, is active early with constant pressure up front. Can Honduras' defenders slow down France's attack?
1' -- And... we're off.
Match: Honduras vs. France (Group E) | Kickoff: 6/15, 3 p.m. ET | Stadium:Beira-Rio
Pregame: After Switzerland's 2-1 victory over Ecuador, the onus is now on France to live up to its expectations as the Group E favorites. Much will be said about their chemistry issues at the last World Cup, but this is a a much different (re. younger) team than the squad that bowed out without a single victory. That's both a blessing, given that they can forget that ugly showing, and a curse, due to their inexperience.
Fortunately for Les Bleus, its taking on a Honduran team that has never won a World Cup match in its history and was one of two teams that failed to net a goal in 2010. Sunday's match could be the perfect environment for France to ease back into its World Cup form.
France's starters (4-3-3): Lloris, Debuchy, Varane, Sakho, Evra, Pogba, Cabaye, Matuidi, Griezmann, Benzema, Valbuena
Honduras's starters (4-4-2): Valladaras, Bernardez, Beckeles, Figueroa, Izaguirre, Palacios, Garrido, Espinoza, Najar, Bengtson, Costly
France has a lot to atone for after not pulling one victory from South Africa in 2010, and fortunately for Les Bleus, Group E affords it an outstanding opportunity to advance. It will need to overcome the absence of star winger Franck Ribery (out with a back injury), but this could be young winger Paul Pogba's coming-out party.
Honduras doesn't score a ton of goals (13 in 10 qualifying matches) and the French side is known for being tight in the back. The Hondurans' chances could ride on the combo play of Jerry Bengtson and veteran midfielder Carlo Costly, who will try and sneak one past France's veteran keeper Hugo Lloris.
This is only the third time the Hondurans will appear at a World Cup compared to France's decorated history, and as such, the Hondurans should have modest goals. It probably won't come tomorrow against group favorite France, but its next win will be the country's first-ever World Cup victory.
France has the talent and the experience to advance, but off-the-field issues derailed its last World Cup campaign. We'll count the chemistry points (you know, hugs and high fives) as they open against Honduras on Sunday.