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March 30, 2017

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France thrash Switzerland in 5-2 stunner

SALVADOR, Brazil--Olivier Giroud hit France's 100th goal in all World Cup finals on Friday to set off a 5-2 thrashing of Switzerland that put Les Bleus firmly on course for the knockout rounds.

After their opening 3-0 win over Honduras, France are firmly in control of Group E. The rout also helped bury memories of a notorious player strike at the 2010 World Cup.

The match was held on the fourth anniversary of the day French players refused to train in protest at Nicolas Anelka being sent home.

But Giroud's 16th minute header set off a goal deluge by a team now again among the World Cup contenders.

Blaise Matuidi scored 66 seconds later and diminutive right-winger Mathieu Valbuena hit the third just before the break.

Real Madrid's Karim Benzema missed a first-half penalty, but then netted their fourth in the second half before Newcastle United midfielder Moussa Sissoko rounded off the rout.

Only the heroics of Swiss goalkeeper Diego Benaglio prevented more French goals before Blerim Dzemaili and Granit Xhaka scored late consolation goals.

"I think everyone could see we're going through an exceptional adventure," said goalscorer Giroud.

"I think people can see that on the pitch we're getting a lot of pleasure," added the Arsenal striker, highlighting the tight bonds in the side notorious for past divisions.

"This could have been more than perfect," said France coach Didier Deschamps, indicating that the two Swiss goals were the only dampener.

"We were up against a good team and to score five goals and win 5-2, it was a very good evening," he added.

Switzerland's coach Ottmar Hitzfeld was disconsolate.

"I'm very disappointed," said the German. "We never played to our potential. The double-hit broke our neck," he said referring to the two early goals conceded.

"The French were ice cold in taking their chances and they had excellent counter-attacks.

Ecuador had to beat Honduras in their game in Curitiba late Friday to stop France qualifying.

The Swiss, who have not beaten France since 1992, may now need to beat Honduras next Wednesday to qualify for the last 16. They beat Ecuador 2-1 in their opener.

Hitzfeld was forced into an early change when centre-back Steven von Bergen had be taken to hospital with concussion and a heavy cut over his left eye as Philippe Senderos replaced him.

Giroud, back in for Antoine Griezmann after spending most of the Honduras win on the bench, wasted little time in repaying Deschamps' faith.

He met Valbuena's floated corner and his looping header beat Benaglio who just got an outstretched glove to the ball.

Virtually from the Swiss kick off, Benzema snapped up a stray pass, charged into the Swiss half and put away Paris St Germain midfielder Matuidi, who fired inside Benaglio's near post.

The Swiss came perilously close to pulling a goal back as a Xhaka strike was ruled offside, then Xherdan Shaqiri's shot flew across the French goal.

There was drama in the 31st minute when Swiss defender Johan Djourou was harshly judged to have fouled Benzema to give away a penalty. The spot-kick was blocked by Benaglio and Cabaye's follow-up hit the crossbar.

France's third goal was textbook counter-attacking as Benzema claimed the ball from a Swiss corner, passed to Rafael Varane who put Giroud into space on the left wing.

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