At halftime: France up 1 on Honduras as Benzema scores, Palacios sent off just before break – FOLLOW LIVE

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Story of the half: France was clearly on top the whole first half, but it took them 44 minutes to produce a goal, at great cost to Honduras.

Wilson Palacios shoved Paul Pogba in the back in the box, not only conceding a penalty but also earning himself his second yellow card in the process.

Karim Benzema blasted home the ensuing penalty for the 1-0 lead, and now Honduras has a massive task in front of them.

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Goals:

45′ – Wilson Palacios, physical the entire first half, threw his body into the back of Paul Pogba.  It was a costly foul for Honduras, conceding a penalty just before halftime and seeing himself sent off.  Karim Benzema powerfully charged the ball into the top left on the finish.

Other key moments:

12′ – With France clearly on top early on, they had a pair of free kicks just outside the Honduran box. They botched the first with a weird attempt at a predetermined play, but came close with the second, only foiled by a strong Valladares punch.

15′ – Another dangerous French set piece saw the ball into the box sail just over 3 attacker’s heads, but fell to a wide-open Blaise Matuidi who struck powerfully.  The ball was touched by the fingertips of a diving Valladares and ricocheted onto the crossbar.  By far the closest chance yet.

23′ – France continued to pummel the Honduran third, and Patrice Evra’s cross into the box found the head of Antoine Griezmann, who clattered the ball against the crossbar.

25′ – All France but no goals. Mathieu Valbuena received the ball on the right edge of the box with no defenders in sight but a bad angle, so he cut back for Karim Benzema, who headed just over.

28′ – Double yellow for Paul Pogba and Wilson Palacios as the pair get into a midfield scuffle and trade kicks/steps. Tempers flare. The ref stands and watches before producing the cards.

LINEUPS:

France – Lloris; Debuchy, Varane, Sakho, Evra; Cabaye, Matuidi, Pogba; Valbuena, Benzema, Griezmann.

Goals – Benzema (pen) 45′

Honduras – Valladares; Figueroa, Bernardez, Izaguirre, Beckeles; Palacios, Espinoza, Najar, Garrido; Bengtson, Costly.

Key players:

  • Patrice Evra – A key component in France’s attack, they powered down the left side on multiple occasions, and the former Manchester United defender was right there to deliver.
  • Karim Benzema – Didier Deschamps left Olivier Giroud on the bench in favor of Benzema isolated at the front, and the French striker has had plenty of freedom to move across laterally.  He’s the man they’re looking for to score, but it remains to be seen if Deschamps will keep it that way.
  • Wilson Palacios – Honduras’s main man in the middle of the pitch, the hard-hitting Stoke player has tried to be a physical presence to hold France down, and it’s worked thus far. However, he has to be careful now that he’s been booked in the Pogba incident.

Numbers to know:

70.8% – Amount of possession France has had.
5 – Number of yellow cards handed out in the first half, one being Wilson Palacios’s second.
15 – Number of clearances Honduras has been forced to make, compared to just four by France.
0 – Number of losses France has in the World Cup when leading at the half. They have won 17 and drawn 3.

Questions for the second half:

  • Will Honduras go for the shock equalizer or play for goal differential? Down to 10 men, it remains to be seen if coach Luis Suarez will now look to close up shop and concede defeat as to not concede any more goals, or if he will leave things open to try and pick up a man-down goal.
  • Can France continue pedal to the metal?  If there’s one thing above all else that’s been France’s weakness the last decade of disappointment, it’s mental fortitude.  Up a man and in control of the match, sometimes those situations are the hardest to remain focused. It never hurts to have a good goal differential, and they’ll want to cash in on the mistake by Honduras.

Report: Newcastle activates $12m release clause of ex-Arsenal youth

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Reports out of Turkey say Newcastle United have finally struck the transfer market for a new No. 10.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Aksam reports that Rafa Benitez got the Magpies hierarchy to activate a near $12 million release clause for Besiktas midfielder Oguzhan Ozyakup.

The 25-year-old was part of Arsenal’s youth set-up until 2012, making two League Cup appearances in 2011-12 before moving to Besiktas.

Dutch-born Ozyakup is 35-times capped with a goal for Turkey, twice captaining the Crescent-Stars.

Ozyakup lost playing time to Talisca this season, and registered just four assists in 24 appearances. In 219 appearances for Besiktas, he’s posted 27 goals with 50 assists.

Like the move for Newcastle?

Lukaku pens inspiring post on hard-scrabble upbringing

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Manchester United and Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku has an inspiring and emotional post in The Players’ Tribune which tugs at the heart strings and explains his competitive fire.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Lukaku talks about how his family’s poverty caused him to become a fierce competitor in the hopes of meeting his dreams head-on and providing for his family.

The Belgian, 25, scored twice in his side’s 3-0 World Cup-opening win over Panama earlier this week, and is now far removed from his youth, but he tells his story as if it lives fresh in his mind.

From The Players’ Tribune:

There were even times when my mum had to “borrow” bread from the bakery down the street. The bakers knew me and my little brother, so they’d let her take a loaf of bread on Monday and pay them back on Friday.

Lukaku also talks about racism in football, his debut for Anderlecht, and that aforementioned competitive drive. It’s 100 percent worth the read.

West Ham signs club record center back from Toulouse

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West Ham has reportedly set a club record with its latest signing under new manager Manuel Pellegrini.

Issa Diop is the player, the 21-year-old Toulouse captain and center back costing the Irons around $29 million.

[ MORE: Arsenal signs Leno ]

Diop scored three goals with an assist and eight yellow cards in 31 Ligue 1 matches this season, giving the young defender 95 apps, six goals, three assists, and 23 yellows since debuting with the senior team at 18.

Capped by France at every level below the senior team, Diop’s 2.2 interceptions per game ranked sixth in Ligue 1.

Toulose finished 18th in Ligue 1, but won its promotion/relegation playoff to stay in the French top flight.

From WHUFC.com:

“I am very happy to sign for such a historic, English club, and I hope to show my best here. I am a very ambitious player and West Ham is a very ambitious club, as we’ve seen with the appointment of the new coach. I hope to help the team win lots of games and make the fans happy.”

Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show: Episode 3

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In the third episode of Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show, England pulls out a massive win while VAR finds its way into the World Cup spotlight.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

There will be plenty more to come over the next few weeks, with the show coming via the Men In Blazers.

Click play on the video above to watch the first episode in full.