A young France side are looking to redeem themselves after the country’s embarrassing exit from the 2010 World Cup, and their first task comes in the form of CONCACAF qualifiers Honduras. The Catrachos are back for more after a respectable showing in South Africa, but squarely focused on accomplishing what that team didn’t – score a goal and win a game.
BONIEK FIT?: The Catrachos have been sweating this one for weeks now. Houston Dynamo star Boniek Garcia suffered a muscle strain in his right leg and his battle for fitness has come down to the wire. Losing Garcia would deprive the team of one of its best options in midfield. He told Tiro Libre Radio on Monday that he still wasn’t quite 100% for the game, but will have had nearly a week since to get ready. If he can’t go, his excellent two-way play will be a huge miss for Honduras.
REPLACING RIBERY: Les Bleus were dealt a huge blow when Franck Ribery – widely considered one of the top players in the world – was unable to regain fitness in time for the tournament. Without him, the team will have to turn to Karim Benzema to drive the attack (more below), while his absence on the wing could give electrifying youngster Antoine Griezmann a chance to establish himself.
MISMATCH IN THE MAKING?: There are actually only 16 FIFA ranking places between the two teams, but on paper this one should heavily favor France, who draw players from some of the top clubs in the world and are widely expected to progress from Group E.
Honduras have a few things going for them, however. They will certainly be more at home with the climate and travel distances in Brazil, and bring to the field a physical and well-drilled unit. La H held the likes of Spain and Chile to three goals in a pair of games last time around, and they will be looking to make life similarly difficult for another talented attacking team.
YOUTH MOVEMENT: Unsurprisingly, France are turning over something of a new leaf, with a number of promising young players stepping out onto the world stage for the first time against Honduras. The most well-known is Juventus center midfielder Paul Pogba, who has taken Serie A by storm with some outstanding performances.
Pogba should be joined on the lineup card by 21-year-old Raphael Varane, who has put in some polished performances in the Champions League and will likely partner 24-year-old Liverpool defender Mamadou Sakho, also making his first appearance in the World Cup. Griezmann will also likely get a run out after quietly delighting La Liga for the past few years at Real Sociedad.
THE STAR YOU KNOW
- Karim Benzema, forward, France: With Frank Ribery out, Benzema will have to step up as France’s attacking centerpiece. The Real Madrid forward had a solid season with 24 goals across 52 games in all competitions, but may need to hit an especially strong run of form if France are to have any hope of winning the tournament. It starts with Honduras, though, and Benzema’s strength and athleticism should help him match up well with a tough Honduran defense.
THE PLAYER WHO WILL SURPRISE YOU
Luis Garrido, midfielder, Honduras: The Hondurans will be fairly familiar to American fans, with the numerous MLS connections and the countries having faced off seemingly countless times in CONCACAF play, but one player who fans may just be getting familiar with is 23-year-old midfielder Luis Garrido. The defensive mid made his Honduras debut in October 2012 after starting three of four games in the U-23 team’s run to the Olympic quarterfinals. Garrido, who has played entirely in his home country save for a six-month stint at Red Star Belgrade, will have to play beyond his years to contain an intimidating France midfield.