By Paul Kennedy
The French press said France was given an early Christmas present when the Bleus were grouped
with Switzerland, Ecuador and Honduras at December's World Cup draw. Honduras was certainly a gift as the Bleus easily disposed of the Catrachos, 3-0, in Belo Horizonte on Sunday.
One-way traffic. Certainly, Wilson Palacios' red card late in the first half ended the Catrachos' chances, but it was all one-way
traffic from beginning to end in the first mismatch of the World Cup. (Sorry Oranje fans, Friday's Dutch win over Spain wasn't that one-sided.)
Matuidi and Antoine Griezmann had already hit the crossbar when Karim Benzema put the Bleus ahead from the
penalty spot going into halftime. From then on, it was target practice as France peppered poor Honduran keeper Noel Valladares. The final stats were France with
a 20-4 edge in shots, 8-0 edge in corner kicks and 68-32 percent edge in possession.
The Bleus' 8-0 win over Jamaica in their final warm-up might have given some French fans the idea that
the Bleus could put eight past another Concacaf opponent, but Valladares kept Honduras in the game with seven saves.
GLT: Right call, wrong picture. The game turned on the second goal in the 48th minute. Benzema's shot hit the far post and rebounded straight into Valladares' hands, but the Catracho
keeper couldn't keep the ball out of the goal.
The goal-line technology showed the initial shot
had not crossed the line but the rebound did. The Hondurans were upset with the call, but the goal stood. (Benzema's goal was ruled an Valladares own goal. Certainly, you could argue the ball would
not have gone into the goal but for it hitting off Valladares' gloves.)
The confusion was with the initial image -- of a "no-goal" call -- on the shot off the post. Said French coach
Didier Deschamps, "Obviously, I can put myself in their position and, of course, they were very angry and so were the fans -- because if you're going to show an
image it should be the right one.''
New-look France impresses. Who needs Franck Ribery? Or Samir Nasri? This wasn't an entirely different team from the one that mutinied in South Africa four years ago. Patrice Evra,
the captain of the rebellion, was in the middle of the rough and tumble of the tournament's nastiest game to date. Goalie Hugo Lloris, who has replaced Evra as
the captain, was in South Africa, as was winger Mathieu Valbuena.
But this was a new French team in terms of its attacking spirit. Benzema was in
the middle of the action all game, Griezmann and Valbuena caused Honduras all kinds of problems on the wings, and the midfield with Yohan Cabaye, Matuidi and
the powerful Pogba dominated the Honduras midfield, making Roger Espinoza, one of the best midfielders in Concacaf, a non-factor.
So much for the Concacaf perfect record. After wins by Mexico and Costa Rica, Concacaf suffered its first defeat at the World Cup. Playing six current or former MLS
players, Honduras put on the worst performance of any team so far at the World Cup.
The Catrachos were a far cry from the team that beat the USA in San Pedro Sula and Mexico in Mexico
City. Frankly, they could have lost by a lot more than three goals.