Giroud and Benzema pairing pays off as five-star France rout Switzerland

'Never change a winning team. So the maxim goes, anway' writes Richard Jolly, noting Didier Deschamps' gambit to bring Olivier Giroud into the line-up against Switzerland allowed him and Karim Benzema to flourish in a 5-2 win.

Olivier Giroud and Karim Benzema shown during Franc'es 5-2 win over Switzerland on Friday at the 2014 World Cup in Salvador, Brazil. David Vincent / AP / June 20, 2014
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They scored five goals against the team placed sixth in the Fifa rankings. While others fall by the wayside, it transpires the easy part for France is actually playing in the World Cup.

No European team has had such a straightforward start to life in Brazil. None endured such a fraught journey through qualification, either. France only finished second in their pool, lost the first leg of the subsequent play-off 2-0 to Ukraine and needed a wonderful comeback to spare themselves a summer at home.

Now they are headed for the knockout stages. France have begun in imperious fashion and are dominating one of the weakest groups. They belied Switzerland’s lofty ranking by demolishing them.

If they had good fortune in the draw, France are making the most of it. Crucially, having won their last three games by an aggregate score of 16-2, they are also peaking at the right time. Nor is it just players such as Karim Benzema and Mathieu Valbuena who are in form. So is the manager.

Never change a winning team. So the maxim goes, anyway. Like most such generalisations, however, there are times when it pays to ignore received wisdom. Didier Deschamps did, and he benefited. Benzema scored twice against Honduras. The France manager responded by moving his main striker to the left wing and bringing in Olivier Giroud. It did not prevent the Real Madrid man from scoring his third goal of the tournament. It was a gambit that was doubly justified.

First Giroud opened the scoring, then Benzema, from his deeper position, set up Blaise Matuidi for the second. Valbuena, the third member of the attacking trio, added a terrific third. With Benzema netting the fourth, each was on the scoresheet.

Their differences, from Giroud’s understanding of the target man’s duties to Benzema’s high-speed dribbling and Valbuena’s inventively deft touches, enable them to dovetail superbly. A midfield trio of Matuidi, Moussa Sissoko and Yohan Cabaye were similarly excellent and, indeed, two of them also scored. Paul Pogba eventually surfaced as a substitute but Deschamps could afford to omit him.

Switzerland were beaten all too easily. France never looked back after a 66-second double. First Giroud met Valbuena’s corner with a thumping header that, though he was 12 yards out, still sailed past the despairing Diego Benaglio.

One soon became two. Valon Behrami was the instigator of Switzerland’s injury-time winner against Ecuador. He had a decisive impact again, albeit in the wrong way, by rolling the ball to Benzema. He picked out Matuidi, who steered his shot past a culpable Benaglio, who was beaten at his near post.

The merits of using Benzema on the left, in the role that was earmarked for Franck Ribery until he was injured, were apparent when he ran at Johan Djourou, who rather needlessly tripped the Real Madrid man. The penalty was awarded but Switzerland, having conceded twice in little over a minute, were reprieved twice in seconds. Benaglio blocked Benzema’s spot kick and, with goalkeeper grounded, Cabaye volleyed the rebound against the bar.

No matter. France counter-attacked with devastating speed to score a third. They were defending a corner when Raphael Varane picked out the breaking Giroud. He burst clear and centred for Valbuena to sweep in his shot. Pogba, belatedly summoned, set up the fourth with an outside-of-the-boot pass, though Philippe Senderos played a part, too, the Swiss substitute hacking at thin air as the ball ran through to Benzema to convert.

After going 16 months without a goal for his country, he now has nine in eight games. He creates them too, as he showed with France’s fifth. Benzema picked out Sissoko, who completed France’s nap hand.

Blerim Dzemaili and Granit Xhaka reduced the deficit, increasing the chances that Switzerland will join France in the last 16, possibly on goal difference. Goals, though, have become the constants in France games and the match ended with Benzema putting the ball in the net again, only to discover the final whistle had gone.

Man of the Match: Karim Benzema – Scored one, made two, won and missed a penalty: he is becoming ubiquitous. Few players have started this World Cup better.

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