France has a point to prove; Messi set for action

Published on NewsOK Modified: June 15, 2014 at 3:16 am •  Published: June 15, 2014
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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — France is preparing for its first World Cup match since leaving South Africa in disgrace four years ago following a player strike and a group-stage exit.

Didier Deschamps' inexperienced squad needs to perform on the sport's biggest stage to win back supporters and is expected to beat Honduras on Sunday, which only compounds the pressure.

Some of the favorites have had a tough time in the first few days in Brazil, with defending champion Spain thrashed 5-1 by Netherlands and Costa Rica upsetting Uruguay, semifinalists four years ago.

Lionel Messi will be in action Sunday when Argentina opens against Bosnia-Herzegovina in Group F. In the other match on day four in Brazil, Switzerland is aiming to live up to its ranking when it takes on Ecuador in Group E.

Things to watch for Sunday:

FRENCH PLANNING FOR A RENAISSANCE: France has had an on-off run at the last four World Cups, reaching the finals twice (champions in 1998 and runners-up in 2006) and going out in the group stage twice without winning a match (2002 and '10). If the pattern continues, it'll be a good month for Les Bleus in Brazil.

With only a handful of players remaining from 2010, there's a new energy and enthusiasm. Coach Didier Deschamps concedes there's extraordinary pressure in the opening matches — France hasn't won its first match in the last three World Cups — and he's taking a cautious approach with his younger players.

Paul Pogba, 21, is one of France's best young prospects, and 23-year-old winger Antoine Griezmann is a contender to start.

Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema should lead from the front against a physically abrasive Honduran team.

Honduras coach Luis Suarez says his team is capable of causing some upsets, and could even be "the Cinderella of our group."

Defender Emilio Izaguirre and captain and goalkeeper Noel Valladares hold the key to keeping France at bay.

Venue: Porto Alegre. Kickoff: 4 p.m. local time (3 p.m. in New York, 8 p.m. in London, 4 a.m. in Tokyo).

DAVID vs. GOLIATH: Bosnia-Herzegovina, playing in its first World Cup, opens against two-time champion Argentina.

Argentina has an abundance of proven scorers, so coach Alejandro Sabella has to settle on how to utilize Sergio Aguero, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Gonzalo Higuain in an attacking formation with Messi.

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