By Neil Maidment
SALVADOR, Brazil, June 20 (Reuters) - France coach Didier Deschamps reserved special praise for Karim Benzema on Friday after the striker was again at the heart of a fine attacking display in a 5-2 World Cup Group E mauling of Switzerland.
Benzema, who struck twice and came close to a hat-trick in France's opening victory over Honduras, again caused havoc against the Swiss at Salvador's Fonte Nova arena, scoring once and setting up another two.
Although he did miss a first-half penalty, his movement and direct running were a constant problem for Switzerland, who failed to find a way to contain him.
"Benzema confirmed that he is in great shape, he is very well physically, he is a very joyful person and a top-notch player," Deschamps said of the 26-year-old frontman.
"He just continues doing what he has been doing with us since the beginning, and his work also at (Spanish club side)Real Madrid. It is important to have players such as him."
Benzema's versatility will also be useful to an impressive looking French side. Against Honduras he started up front but was equally influential in a wide left position against Switzerland with Olivier Giroud leading the line.
The missed penalty aside, Benzema almost took his tally in Brazil to four goals in two games, but a beautiful last-minute strike was ruled out because the referee had blown his final whistle.
"I didn't hear the whistle and so I shot and I scored the goal but I think what is most important is the victory and the way we obtained it," Benzema told reporters after picking up the man of the match award.
A downbeat Swiss coach Ottmar Hitzfeld, who called the crushing defeat a "bleak day" for his side, also paid tribute to Benzema's performance.
"I think Benzema is top class, he makes the most of the gaps, he really fights for the team, he scores, and he proves this in all of the games," he said.
With France struggling in the qualifiers Deschamps had dropped Benzema in September but he came back as a substitute and scored the last goal in a 6-0 friendly rout of Australia in October, ending a 16-month international goal drought.
He has now scored nine goals in his last eight internationals. (Editing by Ed Osmond)