By TIM FONTENAULT
Salvador has been home to some of the World Cup’s biggest routs to date. It is where the Netherlands stomped Spain, Germany destroyed Portugal. Add France demoralizing Switzerland to the list.
Les Bleus were relentless against the Swiss on Friday afternoon, taking control of Group E with a 5-2 victory.
France will wait on the result of the final match of the day, Honduras vs. Ecuador, to find out wether or not they have qualified for the Round of 16. The French are through with one game to spare if Ecuador wins or draws.
Only nine minutes into the match, French forward Olivier Giroud was reaching for a cross when his foot caught Swiss defender Steve von Bergen in the face, forcing the centerback off to be replaced by Philippe Senderos.
Senderos and the Swiss defense struggled to keep the young, fast French attack away from goalkeeper Diego Benaglio and it did not take long for France to get the breakthrough.
On a corner kick by Mathieu Valbuena, Giroud jumped into the play from the back of the cluster of players in the box, leaping over everyone to fire a header at goal that neither Benaglio nor Swiss left back Ricardo Rodriguez had a chance of keeping out. The Arsenal striker put France ahead after only 17 minutes.
Sixty-seven seconds later, the lead was doubled. Switzerland’s Valon Behrami thought he was playing the ball back to a Swiss defender, but it ended up on the foot of France forward Karim Benzema, who carried it to within 20 yards and played a ball midfielder Blaise Matuidi to the left of the goal. Matuidi only needed one touch to slide the ball inside the near post, though Benaglio should have kept it out.
The longtime Wolfsburg goalkeeper redeemed himself shortly thereafter. Johan Djourou conceded a penalty by sticking out his leg and knocking down Benzema in the 31st minute. Benzema stepped up to take the penalty kick but was kept out by Benaglio. Yohan Cabaye’s follow-up attempt hit the crossbar and Switzerland stayed alive.
France kept pressing. Switzerland found it difficult to get forward and create chances as the new age of French stars continued to press forward and put the Swiss under pressure. Five minutes before the half, Valbuena fired in the third goal for Les Bleus. Giroud broke down the left side and cut towards goal, getting Benaglio to bite just enough to get him out of position, ignoring the fact that Valbuena was sprinting into the box down towards the far post. Giroud played the ball across the penalty area and right into the path of Valbuena, who tapped it in from inside the six.
Switzerland came out of the break and nearly scored right away, but the offense was not there for the seeded team in Group E. Chances came and went for the Swiss without any real threat of getting back into the match. France, on the other hand, was having too much fun to stop the fight.
Didier Deschamps brought in young star Paul Pogba, who sat out the first half to avoid risking a second yellow card at the World Cup, and the Juventus midfielder made a near-immediate impact. One of the best young talents in the world, Pogba played a perfect through ball with the outside of his right foot, putting Benzema on the doorstep and in perfect position to tap the ball through Benaglio’s legs to give France a 4-0 lead in the 67th minute.
The fifth goal came not seven minutes later, when Benzema played a ball from left to right across the box to Moussa Sissoko, who put a right-footed shot inside the left post.
Switzerland got on the board at last on a free kick from substitute Blerim Dzemaili. The Napoli man put the ball between the French players in the wall and beat Lloris to the bottom-left corner.
In the battle to help their goal difference, Switzerland grabbed another one six minutes later. Playmaker Granit Xhaka snuck in behind the French defense and got on the end of a through ball from Gökhan Inler. Xhaka beat Lloris with a one-time effort from only a few yards out.
France will try to claim the top spot in Group E on Wednesday when they play Ecuador. Switzerland, meanwhile, will be up against Honduras and fighting for a spot in the knockout stage.