France’s Karim Benzema made sure CONCACAF’s unbeaten run in this young World Cup came to an abrupt end Sunday as he scored two goals to lead Les Bleus to a 3-0 victory over an overmatched 10-man Honduras side at Estadio Beira-Rio in Porto Alegre in the teams’ Group E opener.
A physical first half, highlighted more by the whistle of Brazilian referee Sandro Meira Ricci than the play itself, came to a head when Wilson Palacios was shown a second yellow for a 43rd-minute foul in the box on Paul Pogba that led to a Benzema penalty-kick goal right before halftime.
France’s second tally came just three minutes after the break under controversial circumstances (see below) and the French put the icing on the cake with another Benzema strike in the 72nd minute.
Les Bleus, hoping to erase the disappointment of their group-stage exit in 2010, earned their first win in a World Cup opener since 1998 and their first group stage victory since they beat Togo in 2006.
CHIPPY HONDURAS: To the surprise of no one, Honduras came out in their notorious physical, badgering style. Tempers flared briefly when Pogba appeared to kick out at Palacios as the two came together in the 26th minute, leading to both players’ booking. Palacios’ final act of the night came when he ran down Pogba in the area after the rangy winger was fed neatly by Yohan Cabaye. Palacios was shown his second yellow, and Benzema opened his World Cup account from the spot.
VIVA BENZEMA: Tasked with filling the leadership vacuum left by the absence of Les Bleus injured talisman Franck Ribery, Benzema answered the call in a big way for his first goals in any international tournament. And he nearly had a hat trick. After his penalty kick, a Benzema shot took a deflection off the post and then goalkeeper Noel Valladares for an own goal three minutes after the break that required the use of goal-line technology. Benzema’s second left no doubt, a stunning drive to the top corner past Valladares.
MLS ON DISPLAY: Outside of the US national team, Honduras feature the most Major League Soccer players on their roster. New England Revolution forward Jerry Bengston and San Jose Earthquakes center back Victor Bernardez started while Chivas USA midfielder Marvin Chavez was on the bench. Houston Dynamo star Boniek Garcia came on at halftime for Bengtson. D.C. United product and 2010 MLS Rookie of the Year Andy Najar and ex-Sporting KC midfielder Roger Espinoza both started in midfield.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Benzema, France. No doubt about this call, as the Real Madrid striker shed the huge monkey that has resided on his back for years after previous disappointments on the international stage.