WORLD CUP: Switzerland stun, France breeze, Argentina edge past Bosnia on Day 4

Swiss leave it late, while France and Argentina ease to victories

Switzerland Leave it Late vs. Ecuador 2-1

by Steve Brisendine

The first draw of Brazil 2014 has to happen sometime. This was almost that sometime – but not quite. Three minutes into stoppage time, seconds from the final whistle in the 9th match of the tournament, Haris Seferovic (pictured right) ran onto left back Ricardo Rodriguez's cross from the corner and buried it into the roof of the net to give Switzerland a 2-1 victory over Ecuador in Sunday's Group E opener in Brasilia.

Rare comeback: Switzerland's comeback for all three points, after falling behind 1-0 in the 22nd minute and still being down at the half, was a welcome reversal of their prior World Cup fortunes. Before Sunday's victory, the Swiss were 1-8-1 when trailing at the break.

Unmarked: Enner Valencia's 22nd-minute header for a 1-0 Ecuador lead, off Walter Ayovi's free kick from the left flank, was a lot easier than it should have been.
 
There were four Swiss players arrayed in a neat line on the play, but not one of them got up in the air to try and defend it. Johan Djourou was closest, sandwiched between Valencia and Frickson Erazo, and had a 6-inch height advantage on the 5-foot-9 Valencia. Positioning trumped size, though, and the upset bid was on.
 
Near-copy: Admir Mehmedi's 48th-minute equalizer for Switzerland, just minutes after he came on as a halftime sub, looked an awful lot like Valencia's goal. It came from the left corner on a set piece – albeit on Rodriguez's corner kickball, rather than a free kick – and featured a perfect delivery for a crisp finish. Mehmedi was marked more closely, with midfielder Carlos Gruezo rising between him and the goal, but he snapped the ball past his man all the same.
 
Flag Up: Switzerland thought they had gone up 2-1 in the 70th minute, when Josip Drmic took a deflected through ball and put it into the net off Ecuadorian keeper Alexander Dominguez, but the play was ruled offside.
 
Man of the Match: Rodriguez, who assisted on both of Switzerland's goals and turned in a solid afternoon at both ends of the pitch from the left back spot. His placement made it easy for both finishes.

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France Cruise Past 10-man Honduras 3-0

by Dan Itel

France’s Karim Benzema made sure CONCACAF’s unbeaten run in this young World Cup came to an abrupt end Sunday as he scored two goals to lead Les Bleus to a 3-0 victory over an overmatched 10-man Honduras side at Estadio Beira-Rio in Porto Alegre in the teams’ Group E opener.

A physical first half, highlighted more by the whistle of Brazilian referee Sandro Meira Ricci than the play itself, came to a head when Wilson Palacios was shown a second yellow for a 43rd-minute foul in the box on Paul Pogba that led to a Benzema penalty-kick goal right before halftime. 

France’s second tally came just three minutes after the break under controversial circumstances (see below) and the French put the icing on the cake with another Benzema strike in the 72nd minute. 

Les Bleus, hoping to erase the disappointment of their group-stage exit in 2010, earned their first win in a World Cup opener since 1998 and their first group stage victory since they beat Togo in 2006.

CHIPPY HONDURAS: To the surprise of no one, Honduras came out in their notorious physical, badgering style. Tempers flared briefly when Pogba appeared to kick out at Palacios as the two came together in the 26th minute, leading to both players’ booking.

Palacios’ final act of the night came when he ran down Pogba in the area after the rangy winger was fed neatly by Yohan Cabaye. Palacios was shown his second yellow, and Benzema opened his World Cup account from the spot.
 
VIVA BENZEMA: Tasked with filling the leadership vacuum left by the absence of Les Bleus injured talisman Franck Ribery, Benzema answered the call in a big way for his first goals in any international tournament.

And he nearly had a hat trick. After his penalty kick, a Benzema shot took a deflection off the post and then goalkeeper Noel Valladares for an own goal three minutes after the break that required the use of goal-line technology. Benzema’s second left no doubt, a stunning drive to the top corner past Valladares.
 
MLS ON DISPLAY: Outside of the US national team, Honduras feature the most Major League Soccer players on their roster. New England Revolution forward Jerry Bengston and San Jose Earthquakes center back Victor Bernardez started while Chivas USA midfielder Marvin Chavez was on the bench. Houston Dynamo star Boniek Garcia (right) came on at halftime for Bengtson. D.C. United product and 2010 MLS Rookie of the Year Andy Najar and ex-Sporting KC midfielder Roger Espinoza both started in midfield.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Benzema, France. No doubt about this call, as the Real Madrid striker shed the huge monkey that has resided on his back for years after previous disappointments on the international stage.

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Messi Magic enough in Argentina's 2-1 win over Bosnia

by Dan Itel

It took Argentina a long time to get going, but once they did, they did nothing to dissuade their status as one of the favorites of the 2014 World Cup with a business-like performance in a 2-1 victory Sunday over debutante Bosnia & Herzogovina at Estadio Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro.

A third-minute own-goal and a touch of brilliance from Lionel Messi in the second half gave La Albiceleste all they needed in the Group F opener. An 84th-minute goal by former Fire PDL player Vedad Ibisevic (right) made things interesting late for Bosnia, but the equalizer never came.

MAGNIFICENT MESSI: It took until the second half for Messi to remind everyone why he’s one of the best on the planet. But when he did, he did it in typically masterful fashion.

He turned a simple give-and-go in the 65th minute into a bit of individual brilliance, taking a back-heel pass from Gonzalo Higuaín, skirting past a handful of Bosnia-Herzegovina defenders on the edge of the box before firing a left-footed blast just beyond a defender and tucked neatly inside the near post.

ROUGH START FOR B-H: The World Cup debut for the Dragons got off to a nightmare start just three minutes in. Argentina’s Marcos Rojo headed a ball played in by Messi in relative harmless fashion, if not for the fact that it rebounded off the shin of Sead Kolasinac and into their own goal for an early 1-0 deficit.

ARGENTINA … ON DEFENSE? La Albiceleste came out in a formation few would have expected from the high-flying powerhouse that scored 35 goals in 16 qualifying games. They fielded five on the backline with Messi and Sergio Agüero up top in a 5-3-2 formation to mediocre attacking results.

Outside of the own-goal, Argentina gave Bosnia-Herzegovina little worry in the attack through the first 45. At halftime, they shifted to four in the back with midfielder Fernando Gago replacing Hugo Campagnaro.

MISSED CHANCES: A game Bosnia-Herzegovina side had plenty of chances before Messi put the game out of reach, especially in the first half with Argentina oddly coming out with a defensive look.

Their best chance at a first-half goal came when Senad Lulic snapped off a corner-kick header in the 41st minute that forced a diving save by Sergio Romero. Ibisevic, who played for a season at St. Louis University, gave Argentina palpations late, but they were able to salt away the victory with little trouble.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Messi, Argentina. A player of that quality can change the match in a matter of moments. And that’s just what he did with what was ultimately the game winner.