France superpowered by unified spirit

The French are the tournament top scorers with eight from their first two matches, and might easily have hit double figures by now with a little more luck and application against hapless Switzerland. Karim Benzema alone could have had a hat-trick after seeing a penalty saved and what looked like a sixth goal chalked off for shooting fractionally after a final whistle he claimed he never heard. The Real Madrid striker was unlucky not to claim a hat-trick in the first match against Honduras, and both coaches at the Arena Fonte Nova agreed he was looking in great shape. Even at current odds of 5-1 he looks a decent bet for the Golden Boot, anyone who got on him at 50-1 in March must be pinching themselves. Yet the French are more than just the Benzema show. Olivier Giroud played an impresssive part in their latest victory, looking livelier in creating Mathieu Valbuena’s third goal than many who have seen him in the Premier League thought possible, and Blaise Matuidi, Moussa Sissoko and even the substitute Paul Pogba played their parts. Didier Deschamps spoke of the spirit of 1998 afterwards. He was not necessarily predicting the same result, just suggesting that once again the dressing room was unified and focused on a common goal. It is true that France are not in a particularly demanding group, but as a team and as a scoring unit – “efficient” was the term Deschamps used – they are building up confidence and a powerful head of steam. Paul Wilson

The Swiss are on anything but a roll

Switzerland can be thankful France let up a little last night. Five goals to the good after a wondrous display of attacking verve, the French – perhaps understandably – collectively dozed at a free-kick, then dragged their feet while setting an offside trap. Suddenly, the Swiss had a couple of consolations to take away from a battering in Bahia. That will give some of the more attack-minded members of their team – Xherdan Shaqiri, Granit Xhaka, Blerim Dzemaili – a little succour going into their final showdown against Ecuador. It’s a much-needed boost, because Ottmar Hitzfeld might not be able to rely on that defence, denied early on the services of Steve von Bergen, who had his cheekbone broken by Olivier Giroud’s careless boot. Von Bergen’s replacement, Phillipe Senderos, looked woefully out of step, at one point thrashing through thin air, all elbows and knees, as he comically failed to stop Karim Benzema from scoring. Senderos has never quite delivered on his early promise. At 29, it’s time, because the Swiss need a big performance from him if a country dreaming of a first quarter final since 1954 are to even escape the group. Scott Murray

How far can Costa Rica go?

Jorge Luis Pinto’s team might not even need a result against England to advance as the Group D winners but, to make sure, a draw would do. It is the permutations of the last 16 and beyond that are now quickening the nation’s pulse. The trade-off for being in the so-called Group of Death and emerging from it is a potentially easier-looking second round tie. Were Costa Rica to top the section, they would most likely face Ivory Coast and, given the momentum that they have built, they would back themselves to win. Thereafter, it could be Holland, Chile, Brazil, Mexico or Croatia in the quarter-final. Dreams are running wild. David Hytner

Balotelli crashes to earth

It was one of those afternoons when nothing went right for Mario Balotelli. In the defeat to Costa Rica, the striker’s touch was so heavy at times that the ball bounced off him. He blew a glorious first-half chance to shape the game in a different way because of a bad touch and misjudged attempted lob while in the second-half, as Costa’s three central defenders refused to give him an inch, he got himself booked for catching Junior Diaz with his hand. Cesare Prandelli had described Balotelli beforehand as the man to take Italy “to the moon” with one performance but disappoint in the next. Balotelli had been the match-winner against England. Italy need lift-off from him against Uruguay. DH

The other Valencia gives Ecuador hope

The Ecuador fans sung “Yes, we can” in Curitiba as their team came from behind to beat Honduras in a match of punts, hacks and end-to-end action that proved that football doesn’t have to be beautiful to be entertaining. They have Enner Valencia to thank for filling them with optimism in a victory that took them second, on goal difference, in a group that always looked likely to be dominated by France. The 25-year-old, who plays in Mexico for Pachuca, has now scored six goals in his last six internationals. He was only brought into a central role from the wing after Christian Benítez’s death in July 2013, but he has starred as the lead man, finding space with intelligent runs and turning lost causes into opportunities in a similar fashion to Costa Rica’s Joel Campbell. They face the French next who, if they switch off as they did in the final 10 minutes against Switzerland, could be exposed by the instinctive little striker who has given a nation hope. Gregg Bakowski