By Paul Kennedy
Just about everything went in for France against Honduras and Switzerland, but the Bleus' luck ran out as they peppered Ecuador keeper Alexander Dominguezfor 20 shots but could not put past him for a 0-0 tie.
Still, the result gave France first place in Group E and eliminated Ecuador, making it the only South American not advance when Switzerland beat Honduras, 3-0, to take second place. For a look at how Group E finished up ...
FRANCE SPUTTERS.After 3-0 and 5-2 wins, the Bleus were all but mathematically through to the round of 16, so Coach Didier Deschampsmade six changes from the lineup he fielded against Switzerland for the final group match against Ecuador at the Maracana Stadium. They created a ton of chances but could not beat Alexander Dominguez, who made 13 saves.
Karim Benzema was the only forward kept in the lineup for the third game in a row but after scoring three goals and three assists in the first two games, his touch eluded him, bringing back memories of his drought when he went 15 games in 2012 and 2013 without a goal for France.
France missed the inventiveness of its two little men, 5-foot-8 midfielder Yohan Cabaye, who was suspended, and 5-foot-6 Mathieu Valbuena, who gave way on the wing to Antoine Griezmann.
France, which will play Nigeria in the round of 16, was lucky not to lose anyone with serious injuries. Defender Mamadou Sakho was taken off as a precautionary measure with an ankle injury, and stand-in left back Lucas Dignewas the victim of a studs-up tackle by Antonio Valencia that earned the Ecuador captain a red card.
SWISS PUT ARGENTINA ON NOTICE.The seeding of Switzerland was arguably the most controversial of the pre-draw decisions taken by FIFA's World Cup organizing committee. No, the Nati did not win its group. But at least it did better than two other seeds. Defending champion Spain and Italy have headed home.
In 2010, the Swiss went out after scoring one goal in three games -- the Gelson Fernandes goal that gave them a 1-0 win over Spain in their opening game -- but this time they've shown plenty of firepower. Blerim Dzemailiand Granit Xhakascored from distance to pull the Nati back from 5-0 down against France, and Xherdan Shaqiriscored a hat trick against Honduras, the first with a blast from 25 yards and the second and third set up by Josip Drmic.
The Swiss were dominated in terms of possession, but they showed they can score with lightning quickness. They will have no pressure going into their round-of-16 match against Argentina on Tuesday, and Shaqiri, Drmic and Xhaka could give the suspect Argentine defense all kinds of problems.
CATRACHOS WINLESS IN NINE GAMES.In 1982, Honduras earned draws in its first two games before losing and going home. In 2010, the Catrachos held Switzerland to a scoreless draw in their final game to return with at least a point in their picket. This time, the Swiss put three goals past Honduras, which exited with three losses in three games, putting its winless streak at nine games, the most by a team that has never won a match at the World Cup
The Catrachos' performance is all the more embarrassing because their Concacaf counterparts Mexico, Costa Rica and the USA are unbeaten in eight games (five wins and three ties) heading in the USA-Germany match in Recife.