World Cup Previews – Group E

Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras

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The Perception

Another “easy” group with one of the weaker top seeds. Any of the teams could qualify, but France and Switzerland are favourites.

Fixtures

15 June 2014

Switzerland v Ecuador, Estadio Nacional, Brasilia, 17:00 (ITV)

15 June 2014

France v Honduras, Estadio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre, 20:00 (BBC)

20 June 2014

Switzerland v France, Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador, 20:00 (ITV)

20 June 2014

Honduras v Ecuador, Arena da Baixada, Curitiba, 23:00 (ITV)

25 June 2014

Honduras v Switzerland, Arena Amazonia, Manaus, 21:00 (BBC)

25 June 2014

Ecuador v France, Estadio do Maracana, Rio de Janeiro, 21:00 (BBC)

Switzerland

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  • World Ranking: 8 (correct to 6 June)
  • World Cup best: Quarter-finals (1934, 1938, 1954)
  • World Cups played in (including 2014): 10 (first in 1934)
  • Manager: Ottmar Hitzfeld
  • Captain: Gokhan Inler

Star Man – Granit Xhaka

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Kosovo-born midfielders Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri followed a similar path from Basel to the Bundesliga in 2012 but it is 21 year old Xhaka who has made the breakthrough this season as a regular with Borussia Monchengladbach. Formerly a winger, he now plays in central midfield and has been compared in style and talent to Germany’s Bastian Schweinsteiger by Ottmar Hitzfeld, who has coached them both. For Switzerland, he has four goals from 22 caps, and was named Suisse youth player of the Year in 2012. He won the Under 17 World Cup in 2009, and will be hoping to carry the senior as far as possible in Brazil.

One to Watch – Josip Drmic

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Despite having won only five caps for his country, Drmic is one of Swiss football’s most promising talents. During his short time in the senior squad, the 21 year old has scored twice. He netted 21 goals for relegated Nuremberg in the Bundesliga last season,  – a run of form that saw him earn a move to Bayer Leverkusen who beat the likes of Arsenal and Tottenham for his signature. Get him inside the penalty box and he becomes lethal.

How they qualified

Switzerland qualified with a match to spare for the first time, finishing unbeaten in a relatively weak group and keeping clean sheets in seven of their 10 matches.

Prediction – Round of 16

Switzerland are a rising force in international football, confirmed by the fact that they were seeded for the draw last December. Although one of the weaker seeds, I still expect Ottmar Hitzfeld’s side to win the group, but they may not get any further than the round of 16. They are yet to be really tested by one of the world’s footballing powerhouses.

Ecuador

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  • World Ranking: 28 (correct to 6 June)
  • World Cup best: Round of 16 (2006)
  • World Cups played in (including 2014): 3 (first in 2002)
  • Manager: Reinaldo Rueda
  • Captain: Antonio Valencia

Star Man – Jefferson Montero

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With Antonio Valencia out on the right wing, Ecuador have a player with similar speed down the left in Mexico-based Montero. The 24 year old endured a tough spell out in Spain with Villarreal a few years ago, but he has been rejuvenated in recent seasons following a move to Mexican outfit Morelia. He is also handy for the occasional goal at international level, scoring eight times in 38 appearances for his country including three goals during the qualifying campaign. Cardiff are amongst the teams wanting to take him away from North America this summer.

One to Watch – Felipe Caicedo

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Big and powerful, there is no doubting that Caicedo will be more than a handful for defences at this summer’s tournament. He made a big mark in qualifying as his seven goals helped to propel Ecuador towards qualification. The 25 year old is not always the most consistent performer, but he is the type of striker who always has a chance of creating something out of nothing. He can be controversial at times though, with Rueda publicly called him “childish and ungrateful”, meaning he is one to watch in more ways than, well, one.

How they qualified

Ecuador were second in the South American standings after 10 matches but only won one of their last six matches. Crucially, that victory in the penultimate fixture was against nearest rivals Uruguay to all but secure the last automatic qualifying spot.

Prediction – Group Stages

There are goals in this Ecuador team, but there are also leaks in their defence which could have more on an impact on their chances of getting out of the group. They certainly won’t be pushovers for any of the other three teams, but their hopes will rest on their final group game against the French.

France

France-team

  • World Ranking: 19 (correct to 6 June)
  • World Cup best: Winners (1998)
  • World Cups played in (including 2014): 14 (first in 1930)
  • Manager: Didier Deschamps
  • Captain: Hugo Lloris

Star Man – Franck Ribery

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The Bayern Munich forward remains one of the most enthralling players in world football thanks to a blend of tenacity, blistering pace and deadly finishing. Now 31, Ribery recently suggested that this would be his last World Cup. If that is the case, expect him to be giving his all out on the pitch in Brazil. With all of that said, Ribery is also something of a divisive figure. Not always one to embrace team unity, his petulance could land him in trouble both on and off the pitch this summer.

One to Watch – Paul Pogba

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Pogba’s power and personality has quickly made him indispensable to the French team since making his debut in March 2013, and the good news is that he will have the freedom in Brazil to reproduce the adventure that has epitomised his successes in Italy. The presence of Yohan Cabaye and Blaise Matuidi in midfield will allow the 21 year old off the leash to drive France forward. One of the world’s most promising youngsters, Sir Alex Ferguson let him go as a 19 year old. One of the great manager’s few mistakes as Pogba is now thriving at Juventus.

How they qualified

After finishing second in their qualifying group to holders Spain (who were the team who inflicted their only defeat), France became the first European side to overturn a two-goal deficit in the play-offs, beating Ukraine with an impressive 3-0 home win albeit benefiting from an offside goal from striker Karim Benzema.

Prediction – Round of 16

There seems to be a certain sense of unrest in the French camp at the moment, and Samir Nasri’s snub from the squad was a surprise one. There is still quality in the squad however, and Hugo Lloris will be hard to score past. Although qualifying from the group should come fairly easily, team spirit could be their downfall if they fall a goal behind to someone like Argentina in the round of 16.

Honduras

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  • World Ranking: 30 (correct to 6 June)
  • World Cup best: Group Stages (1982, 2010)
  • World Cups played in (including 2014): 3 (first in 1982)
  • Manager: Luis Fernando Suarez
  • Captain: Noel Valladares

Star Man – Emilio Izaguirre

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Most of the stars in the Honduras team play their club football in Britain, including Hull’s Maynor Figueroa and Wigan’s Roger Espinoza, but Celtic’s Emilio Izaguirre stands out at left-back. The 28 year old’s determination and sheer force of will is exactly what Honduras will need in Brazil when they come up against the likes of France. Having helped Celtic claim their third consecutive Scottish Premiership title last season, he is sure to arrive at the tournament full of confidence. Dogged while performing his defensive duties, Izaguirre is also capable of terrorising opposition defences with his marauding runs.

One to Watch – Carlo Costly

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The 31 year old striker has a strong goal-scoring record for his country with 30 goals in 68 games. There is no question that Costly is lethal when it comes to putting the ball in the net, but there are plenty of doubts over how committed he is to the cause. He was unable to play at the 2010 World Cup due to injury, so he should be keen to impress in Brazil and get his side out of a tough group. Costly is currently plying his trade with Honduran side Real Espana, his eighth club in seven years and who he has seven goals in 13 games for since joining in January. Birmingham City fans may remember his name – he spent five months on loan at St. Andrews in 2009

How they qualified

They finished third in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying despite keeping just two clean sheets in 10 games. Highlights included 2-1 wins at home to the USA and away to Mexico, before a 2-2 draw in their final game against Jamaica sealed qualification for their second World Cup in succession.

Prediction – Group Stages

Reaching the knockout stage looks to beyond Honduras, but they could help decide who does get out of the group by taking points off any of the other teams. That too though looks slightly unlikely.

My final table prediction

Group E

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