France romped to a frenzied 5-2 victory over a shambolic Switzerland to all-but book their place in the Round of 16 of the World Cup and make a powerful statement of their intent in Brazil.
The Group E meeting between the two European neighbors was expected to be a closely fought affair, but was instead already settled by half-time. By that point, a vibrant France, in such stark contrast to the infighting fuelled insipid performances of recent major tournaments, were already three goals to the good; the first two coming in the space of a single minute. In his first start of the competition, Olivier Giroud justified his selection with a towering header after 18 minutes. Then straight from the restart Switzerland midfielder Valon Behrami gifted the ball right to the opposition to allow Blaise Matuidi to find the net with an effort, that like the first goal, goalkeeper Diego Benaglio will be bitterly disappointed he didn’t keep out.
The goal was a sign of a calamity that was all-too often present in a Switzerland back line which was disrupted early on by a nasty-looking facial injury to center-back Steve von Bergen. After a further mishap, the again excellent Karim Benzema should have added to his two goals from France’s opening 3-0 win over Honduras but was denied by Benaglio from the spot before Yohan Cabaye somehow hit the crossbar on the rebound.
It did not matter. Mathieu Valbuena tapped in a third five minutes before the interval after a quick breakaway and Benzema and Moussa Sissoko ran up the score in the second half as Switzerland capitulated in a performance that left their veteran coach Ottmar Hitzfeld bewildered on the sideline. Substitute Blerim Dzemali and then, brilliantly, Granit Xhaka gave the Swiss something to cheer late on, but this was a chastening experience for the seeded side in the group. Hitzfeld now faces a major job to lift what is a talented young group of players for the final group game against Honduras, with progression still within their sights.
While a result that was heavily aided by their opponents, a performance that thrilled in places will elevate France in the eyes of many from dark horses prior to the competition to now genuine contenders.
After what was a confident opening win, Deschamps made two changes to his lineup with Sissoko replacing Paul Pogba and Olivier Giroud coming in for Antoine Griezmann. Giroud had already made an early impression on the face of Von Bergen with a high boot before his staked his claim for selection for the rest of the tournament in the 17th minute. From Valbuena’s corner, Switzerland’s defense was left wanting, not for the last time, and the Arsenal striker showed his aerial prowess to power a header on goal. Still, having gotten a glove to the ball, Benaglio should have kept it at bay.
Switzerland’s performance was epitomized by what happened exactly 60 seconds later. Napoli midfielder Behrami blindly played the ball back to his defense, Benzema pounced and found Matuidi a little too wide on the left, but the dynamic Paris Saint-Germain man’s shot squeezed past Benaglio at the near post.
Switzerland right-back Stephan Lichtsteiner was nowhere to be found on that play, as he was repeatedly throughout the contest. A wing-back for Juventus, Lichtsteiner’s attacking instincts were repeatedly exploited. As was the case when Switzerland went 3-0 down. Hitzfeld’s side were ridiculously naïve in being caught out from their own corner kick, with Giroud winning a defensive header then charging down the left to receive a through ball and cross for Valbuena to finish simply in the middle.
The errors kept coming for Switzerland after the break. To France’s credit, Pogba’s pass with the outside of his right foot was sublime, but Philippe Senderos’s botched attempted clearance less so, to allow Benzema to atone for his penalty miss with a finish through Benaglio’s legs.
As against Honduras, Benzema was the star of the show for France. On the back of his best season yet for Real Madrid, the striker is now displaying the full range of his abilities for France, able to be both goalscorer and, especially in this match when shifted out to the left, creator. His awareness of those around him saw him lay on France’s fifth for Sissoko whose storming forward run culminated in a clinical first-time finish into the corner.
Benzema takes a large share of the blame, though, for Dzemali soon pulling a goal back when he allowed the midfielder’s long-range free-kick to sail under his leg in the wall. And Deschamps may have some words to say, too, about the sloppy way his side allowed Xhaka to bring the deficit back to three with a superb volley over his shoulder that deserved to be much more than a mere consolation. In a game where attack dominated throughout, a fitting conclusion was denied when Benzema delightfuly lobbed in what would have been a goal to take him clear as the World Cup's leading scorer, but was instead voided by the inopportune timing of the referee's final whistle.