By Paul Kennedy
France made it two-for-two in terms of dominating performances with a 5-2 demolition of Switzerland. Here what's we learned about the Bleus, as well as Switzerland's outclassed Nati ...
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE CURSE DEBUNKED. Playing through to the final of the UEFA Champions League takes it toll on players -- which has been mentioned as one of the principal reasons for Spain's downfall (six Spanish players from Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid played in the final, plus Real Madrid's Xabi Alonso, who was suspended). Cristiano Ronaldo will likely play for Portugal against the USA Sunday in Manaus but is far from 100 percent. His Real Madrid teammate, Fabio Coentrao, was injured in Portugal's first game and is out of the World Cup.
What then explains Karim Benzema? The Real Madrid center forward has arguably been the best player in the tournament. He's been involved six of France's eight goals. He had the first and third goals in the 3-0 win over Honduras, and the own goal against the Catrachos came when his shot caromed off the far post and deflected off goalie Noel Valladares into the goal. Against the Swiss, he had one goal and two assists. On top of that, he had a penalty kick saved by the beleaguered Swiss keeper Diego Benaglio and a second goal ruled to have come after the final whistle had blown.
ADDITION BY SUBTRACTION.Repeat after me: France was never going to miss Franck Ribery, the Bayern Munich star who was ruled out of the World Cup with a back injury. Indeed, his absence is addition by subtraction. It's allowed Benzema to become the focal point of the attack. And Coach Didier Deschamps has plenty of other options up front in place of Ribery.
Real Sociedad's Antoine Griezmannwas great in the Honduras game, and tiny Mathieu Valbuena, a holdover from 2010, has had two excellent games, capping France's first-half onslaught in Salvador with a late goal. Olivier Giroudstarted in place of Griezmann against the Swiss and had the first goal and assist on Valbuena's goal.
ALLEZ LES BLEUS! You have to go all the way back to the 1982 World Cup to find a French team that played with such confidence. In the Bleus' last three games, they've scored 16 goals: 8-0 over Jamaica in their final warm-up game, plus the 3-0 and 5-2 wins at the World Cup.
The last time it scored as many goals in consecutive games was in the semifinals and third-place game at the 1958 World Cup when it lost to Brazil 5-2 and beat West Germany 6-3.
What did Deschamps think of the performance? "It was more than perfect before those two goals," he said right afterward.
NATI UNDRESSED.Before the game, the Swiss were talking about how they were going to beat on the counter. Unfortunately, the opposite happened. Once France got ahead, it unleashed wave after wave of counterattack that the Nati could do nothing about.
Benaglio took a lot of heat for the first two goals -- particularly, the second one scored by Blaise Matuidi to the near post -- but the reality was the defense in front of him was like -- well -- Swiss cheese. Two late goals -- by Blerim Dzemaili on a 30-yard free kick and Granit Xhakawith a volley -- at least kept the Swiss from suffering the heaviest defeat of the tournament.
"It's important that the team sticks together and doesn't start blaming anyone or let their heads hang," said Swiss coach Ottmar Hitzfeld afterwards. "That's why it was enormously important that we reacted in the second half. With the two goals, we're still full of hope that we can make it to the next round."