Any notion that the World Cup is turning into a tournament for the smaller nations was banished when Switzerland received their comeuppance from France, a 5-2 scoreline and a defeat that could easily have been heavier making a mockery of Fifa world rankings that currently have the Swiss at six and the French at 17th.
Scorer of the opening goal and architect of the third with a blistering length of the field sprint that might have come as a surprise to some of his critics at Arsenal, Olivier Giroud was the stand-out performer in an impressive French side reshaped by Didier Deschamps since the opening victory over Honduras. Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann were stood down, the former thought to have incurred his coach’s displeasure with his reaction to being fouled in the first game by Wilson Palacios.
“Olivier was extraordinary,” said the official man of the match, Karim Benzema. “He scored and he created a lot.” Deschamps was similarly satisfied. “Our attacks were very quick,” the French coach said. “We have scored eight goals now, we have been very efficient, and that’s how we hope to continue. I have a focused group at present, it reminds me little of 1998.”
Switzerland were forced into a change as early as the ninth minute when Giroud’s boot accidentally collided with Steve von Bergen’s face. The defender was sent to hospital with an eye injury, to be replaced by Philippe Senderos. Giroud was not selected for the first game and expressed disappointment over it, but he made his point when Mathieu Valbuena swung over the next corner and the Arsenal striker rose above static defending to head the first goal. A diving Diego Benaglio managed to get a hand to the looping header but could only push it into the net. If that was an unpromising start for Switzerland worse immediately followed, when straight from the restart Valon Behrami played a sloppy pass into the path of Benzema, who slipped Blaise Matuidi clear of a surprised defence for the Paris Saint-Germain player to confidently beat Benaglio at his near post.
Two goals in as many minutes gave France the upper hand surprisingly early, and Ottmar Hitzfeld’s expression changed from disappointment to disbelief just as quickly. Granit Xhaka did put the ball in the French net following a free-kick midway through the first half but was one of three Swiss players correctly ruled offside, before Xherdan Shaqiri was unlucky to see a follow-up shot after a Hugo Lloris save roll narrowly wide of the target.
There had been debatable penalties in the two previous games in Salvador and the Swiss were furious about the awarding of another one on the half-hour, when Benzema went over after feeling slight contact from Johan Djourou. The centre-half even had a word with Benzema as he was preparing to take the penalty, perhaps with some effect, for Benaglio was able to beat out his low shot and though Yohan Cabaye seemed certain to tuck away the rebound he managed to hit the crossbar.
Once again Salvador was seeing an eventful, high-scoring game, even if it turned into another one-sided encounter with a third French goal. Giroud headed clear from a Swiss corner and kept on running upfield, receiving the ball on half-way to gallop into yards of vacant space and send over exactly the pass Valbuena required to score from the six-yard line. It was a breakaway goal to break Swiss hearts, and but for a couple more stops by Benaglio the French could have scored again before half-time.
Blerim Dzemaili came on for the second half and was not too far wide with a decent shot after an hour, though efforts from long range were all Switzerland appeared likely to offer. Quite sensibly they resisted the temptation to chase the game and invite more French counters by throwing too many men forward, while for their part France did not choose to over-exert themselves with the game won. Pogba replaced Giroud for the last half-hour and almost effortlessly created a third goal in the tournament for Benzema when he hit a diagonal ball forward with the outside of his boot.
Benzema read it perfectly, reaching the ball just ahead of Benaglio and turning it past the goalkeeper with his back still to goal from the angle of the six-yard box. Benzema might have had another six minutes later but from an inviting position unselfishly squared to Moussa Sissoko, allowing the Newcastle player to beat Benaglio with a first-time sidefoot shot.
Dzemaili did bring a hollow cheer from the Swiss support by drilling a free-kick under a pathetically irresolute French wall to pull a goal back, before Xhaka made the score almost respectable with a neat volley from Gökhan Inler’s pass, but this was another rout, the third Salvador has seen.
While France might have to improve their concentration, their goalscoring ability is not in doubt, as Benzema would have proved had not the final whistle timed out a sixth goal just before his shot crossed the line. “Benzema is in top condition,” Hitzfeld conceded. “It was a bleak day, that quick double strike really broke us, but at least our goals at the end were good for morale. We still have high hopes of progressing.”