By Steve Keating
PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil, June 15 (Reuters) - Instead of fighting amongst themselves France beat up on Honduras in their World Cup opener on Sunday, signalling they still like a good scrap but no longer with each other.
Four years ago in South Africa, France were a squad full of cliques torn apart by internal squabbling that returned home in disgrace after failing to win a game.
But fans were back onside proudly singing "La Marseillaise" at Beira Rio stadium as Les Bleus thumped Honduras 3-0 in Group E with the help of a double from Karim Benzema.
The united front amongst the players was far different from the fractious squad that earned nothing but scorn in South Africa, offering the clearest sign yet that French football and their fans have turned the page on that nightmare.
"I think it is a marvellous start for us. It was a very important match indeed," said France coach Didier Deschamps.
"We have in front of us the team of Honduras playing with high qualities and they have defended with a high aggression and that was very complicated for us even if we hit the bar twice (in the first half).
"Finally, the penalty and the exclusion of the player changed the situation, we had more space," he added referring to Benzema's 45th minute spot kick that followed the dismissal of Honduras midfielder Wilson Palacios for a foul in the area.
"We scored three goals, we could have scored even more goals but it was a good start for our team."
France arrived in Brazil expecting a battle with the Hondurans, Deschamps politely describing their style as aggressive.
Honduras certainly lived up to their tough reputation but the French were not inclined to turn the other cheek in a bruising, occasionally ill-tempered match, dishing out as good as they got.
It was the type of contest that kept Brazilian referee Sandro Ricco, the physios and the stretcher carriers busy, with a total of 27 fouls and seven yellow cards - four to Honduras and three for France - plus a red handed out.
"I think we didn't cross the line, we always respect the rules of the game," said Honduras coach Luis Fernando Suarez. "Of course, we have our own style, we have a strong and intense style, but we always respect the rules of the game.
"If at some point we don't respect them then the referee will have to take a decision... and we will have to accept the consequences.
"I don't like to complain but all this time before the World Cup there have been many comments and I think those comments might have an influence on the decisions of the referee."
Playing with determination and an edge, French fans making the trek to Brazil embraced their team in a way they never could in South Africa. It was all music to Deschamps' ears.
"I heard the chants, it was pleasant they were chanting "La Marseillaise", that's football," he said, having heard cheers as a player captaining France to victory at the 1998 World Cup.
"We are in Brazil, it is Latin America and the Latin American teams are closer, they have more fans in the stadium and that is an advantage, but we also had quite a number of fans and they were heard loud and clear." (Editing by Ken Ferris)
- Sports & Recreation
- Didier Deschamps